“To offer protection for children from inappropriate and/or harmful commercial communications”

(Page 29 1. Objectives )

The Draft Revised BAI Children’s Commercial Communications Code states that one of its objectives is to offer protection for children from inappropriate and/or harmful commercial communications.

Although we welcome the fact that the Code  contains a section called ‘Sexualization of Children’, this aspect of child protection has not received the attention it deserves and the Code has concentrated instead on issues to do with physical food, with relatively little attention paid to the issue of  healthy psychological nourishment.

Indeed, the ‘Sexualization of Children’ section consists of just one sentence: ‘Children’s commercial communications shall not portray a child in a sexually provocative manner or provoke anxiety in children over their bodily appearance. U/18’

In the consultation document’s section entitled ‘Rationale for Draft proposals’, the BAI accepts that “Children watch television outside of traditional children’s programming in significant numbers. In light of this, the BAI is of the view that it is appropriate to introduce a number of content and volume restrictions in addition to the prohibition in children’s programmes. In this regard, content restrictions on celebrities, licensed characters and programme characters are intended to reduce the emotional engagement by children that arise from the use of this content in food and drink commercial communications.”

There does not appear to be an application of this understanding that “children watch television outside of traditional children’s programming in significant numbers” to the harmful psychological and, yes, Spiritual aspects of broadcasting and of commercial communications in particular.

Indeed the Authority and its predecessors have a very poor track record when it comes to recognizing the psychological threat posed to young, developing minds by communications aired after the watershed.

The Family and Media Association were instrumental in having an amendment included in the Code of Programme Standards which acknowledged the unacceptability of allowing material to be aired which might incite harm to others. Much of what unfortunately has been accepted by the Authority is actually directly harmful to young people.

There is a need for the Authority, and indeed the Minister, to take seriously the psychological health of the young, if the Authority and the Minister they claim to be genuinely concerned about child protection.

For many years now, in other jurisdictions, such as the UK, the sexualization of children has been flagged as a significant threat to children and the Governments have acted on this reality. In the UK both the Government and Opposition display a degree of unity on the issue of pornography. The word ‘pornography’ does not appear in either of the draft codes.

For a Nation suffering from an epidemic of child abuse, a tiny fraction of which has been attributed to priests or religious, and, with a children’s rights referendum approaching, the BAI and successive governments have incredibly focused on the so called rights of adults or even older children to maximum ‘diversity’ – in some cases depravity – when it comes to broadcasting norms and how these are being interpreted. It is no longer acceptable, at this time, that the desires of adults should be allowed to trump the protection of the children of the nation who are our future. A complete rethink is necessary which will hopefully result in the identification of the hypocrisy implicit in attitudes to children, with respect to broadcasting.

Donal O’Sullivan-Latchford                                                                                                                                                                                 Family and Media Association

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