On Thursday morning a group of Lords based Parliamentary people held a brief debate on the theme of Broadcasting: Children’s Television which was opened up by Floella Benjamin and partly through the debate one of the members of the House of Lords was the Brighton based Lord Steve Bassam who is a member of the House of Lords that I have met in the past. Here are some of the comments that emerged. The full debate can be obtained from here. The Minister who responded was Stephen Parkinson who is the Lord of Whitley Bay.
Floella: To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the decline in production of commercial Public Service Broadcasting children’s television content. My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as per the register.
Stephen: My Lords, the Government recognise the unique social, educational and economic importance of children’s television, and that is why we have put in place a range of measures to support it. The ongoing animation and children’s tax relief schemes have supported the production of over 840 programmes. Working with the noble Baroness, we introduced powers for Ofcom to monitor and set criteria for the provision of children’s television. Children’s television was chosen to pilot contestable funding, which has supported more than 280 hours of new content.
Floella: I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, since the early closure of the Young Audiences Content Fund, which offered up to 50% of programme budgets, the amount of newly made UK commercial children’s content continues to decrease. The children’s television production sector faces market failure and a huge challenge. Without funding, television programmes that reflect British children’s lives could disappear from the nation’s screens, and that would be a tragedy. Pact is proposing new tax breaks of 40% to help keep that vitally important sector thriving. So how are the Government living up to their responsibility to ensure that the nation’s children are accessing high-quality British children’s programming? Will the tax breaks proposed by Pact be supported to ensure that we have more UK commercial public service broadcasting of children’s content?
Stephen: The Young Audiences Content Fund was always designed as a three-year pilot. Now that it is over, it is right that we assess the contestable funding model as a whole to understand how it can be used to help. Any further investment of public funding will need to be considered against that and future broadcasting needs, but we are supporting children’s television to ensure that future generations can benefit from it just as much as past ones have.
And then a bit later Steve Bassam contributed
Steve: My Lords, we of course echo the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. Public service broadcasting faces a number of challenges, including uncertainty over the status of the long-awaited media Bill, which was parked while the Government considered whether to U-turn on privatising Channel 4. Now that decision has been made, can the Minister confirm when noble Lords can expect some breaking news? If not, can he at least say whether the Leader of the House was correct when he stated on 12 January that this crucial legislation will be published only in draft form?
Stephen: The media Bill will reform decades-old law to boost the growth potential of our world-leading public service broadcasters, replacing the outdated set of 14 overlapping purposes and objectives. We have set out those reforms in our White Paper and the Government will legislate when parliamentary time allows.