From Kerry McCarthy MP
At last! Over the past week or so a real debate has started in the media about the participation of children in reality TV shows, documentaries and newspaper stories. This is long overdue.
In November I introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill in Parliament, the Children (Protection of Privacy) Bill. During my speech I argued that action needed to be taken to halt the descent into ever more sensationalistic and voyeuristic TV programming, particularly when it involves children. This followed criticism from the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child, which said that the UK should: “Intensify its efforts…with the media, to respect the privacy of children…especially by avoiding messages publicly exposing them to shame”.
Programmes such as “The House of Tiny Tearaways”, “Supernanny”, “Can Fat Teens Hunt?” and “Brat Camp” specialise in showing children behaving badly and being publicly humiliated. Some programmes purport to be making a serious point, bringing an issue to public attention which would otherwise not be discussed – such as “Teenage Tourette’s Camp” or “Dana: The Eight Year Old Anorexic”. I simply don’t buy it. Such programmes are not educational. They’re exploitative.
When I presented my Bill to Parliament I singled out for particular criticism the notorious Jeremy Kyle show, (which was described by a judge recently as human bear-baiting). Not because of its use of children, who rarely appear on the show, but because of its centrepiece, the DNA test. Can it ever be right for the identity of a child’s father to be revealed by means of announcing the results of a DNA test live on air? Can it be right for a child’s mother and putative father to spend the preceding 20 minutes screaming abuse at each other in public and making it quite clear that the child wasn’t wanted in the first place?
David Aaronovitch joined the debate with a piece in the Times on February 17th, “We must hate kids to put them through this” in which he took to task the producers of “Boys and Girls Alone” in which 20 children aged 8 to 11 are left unsupervised in a house for four weeks so that we can watch them fight and fall out and become more and more distressed as part of a ‘social experiment’. Is this really entertainment?
The recent media frenzy over the 13 year old father has also highlighted this issue. What is to be gained from splashing his face over the front of tabloid newspapers? Can anyone honestly argue that it is in his best interests?
And that’s the crux of this debate. Where children are involved, we should always be looking at what is in their best interests. Some might argue that it is up to the parents; if they consent to their kids appearing in such programmes, then that’s fine. I wish that we could rely on all parents to be responsible and to put their children’s interests first. But we obviously can’t, otherwise such programmes would never be made. If the broadcasters can’t exercise responsibility, it’s time for the Government to act.
PS Here’s the link to my debate.