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19 November 2008

Baby P, Gaming Certificates and Kids TV
The press coverage of Baby P has been highly critical of social workers but despite their failings in this case, are social workers convenient scapegoats for the media?  Kelvin MacKenzie and Yasmin Alibhai Brown discuss. Is watching TV bad for children? Child psychologist, Dr Tanya Byron, discusses why children’s viewing can and should be controlled. We also examine who should be given the job of classifying video and computer games,  And as Ofcom, The BBC Trust and the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select committee all consider aspects of the BBC’s conduct and behaviour,  we’ll attempt plain-person’s guide to who’s who.

Baby P, social workers and the media

Haringey Council WebsiteThis week’s headlines have been dominated by just one, truly shocking story. The death of so-called Baby P in London and the failure of Haringay social services to save him from his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger. And beyond the terrible details of what was done to Baby P , it is the authorities and social workers in particular that have been the focus of press and media attention – much of it highly critical and absolutely uncompromising. The Sun has even gone as far as to start an online petition – signed, they claim, by as many as 200,000 people - demanding the heads of all the social workers involved in the case.

But others argue that, whatever the specific failings in this case, social workers are really just convenient scapegoats and that negative press attitudes towards them are deep-seated and unhelpful. Steve discusses the issues with Kelvin MacKenzie, former Editor of The Sun and Yasmin Alibhai Brown of The Independent.

Dr Tanya Byron and Kids TV

The TweeniesNow, it’s a perennial question but is too much TV viewing was a bad thing for children?

A new report funded by Freeview – the umbrella body for digital terrestrial television – which includes the BBC as a major partner – sets out to tell us that TV viewing by children – provided its well managed by parents – is a good thing. Freeview’s evidence comes from an online survey of 1800 parents of children aged 2 – 11, all members of online community Mumsnet. Most thought it was appropriate to control what – and how much – their children watched with 80% saying they felt some TV programmes had positive educational benefits. On the other hand two thirds also thought some programmes had a negative effect on their child.

The Mumsnet parents are definitely at the upper end of the social scale – almost all university educated and with double the proportion of digital video recorders when compared to the population at large. But even they – for all their evident concern and efforts to control it – remain uncertain about whether TV viewing is really good for their kids.

Steve talks to the author of the report, Child Psychologist Tanya Byron.

Freeview Viewtrition Report
Ofcom Review of Children's TV

Gaming Certificates

Boy plays computer gameOne of the issues Dr Tanya Byron raised in her last major report for the government about child safety and the internet – is now coming to a head. Tomorrow sees the close of a full public consultation into how and by whom video and computer games should be certified. 

There are currently two bodies that certify games in the UK – PEGI – that’s the Pan Eurpoean Game Information - an industry owned body that as its name suggests operates across most of Europe- and BBFC – the British Board of Film Classification.

Dr Tanya Byron suggested in her review that to reduce confusion the BBFC should rate all games from 12 and above but asked for a consultation to establish which system would work for the industry, retailers, parents and gamers.  Steve speaks to David Cook, Director of the BBFC and Mike Rawlinson of the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association in the UK (ELSPA) who represent the industry and are part of PEGI.

DCMS Video Games Consultation Document

BBC Consultations

With the select committee and the BBC Trust both enquiring about the commercial reach of BBC Worldwide, Ofcom and the Trust considering sanctions following the Ross/Brand debacle and a Trust decision due this Friday on the BBC’s Local TV proposals, which itself will have to take account of a market impact assessment by Ofcom, who is really deciding what?

Steve is joined by media consultant Tim Suter who has been a senior BBC executive, head of broadcasting policy at the DCMS and a senior partner at Ofcom.

Comments on today's programme

Baby P:
I was incensed by many of Kelvin Mackenzie's comments on this afternoon's programme, but none more so than by his refusal to agree that 'hardworking' was a term that could ever be used to describe Social Workers. I worked in the commercial sector and with a public utility before becoming a Social Worker in my early 40s and I've never worked so hard, or worked with colleagues who were working so hard! Any Children's Departments out there up for offering Mr. Mackenzie a chance to shadow a Social Worker for the day?! Now that might be a reality check to shatter some of the misconceptions he peddles to his readers. How about it Kelvin?
Christine McKeone

I could not believe my ears this afternoon. How dare a man like Kelvin McKenzie say that social workers were not 'hard workers'. I suggest he spends some time shadowing someone in social care who do meaningful work to understand just how hard they work before displaying his ignorance further.

Whilst Kelvin Mackenzie is a journalist, of a kind, I do think that allowing a man with such an unpleasant view of the world to contribute, on the ‘Baby ‘P’’ case was unfortunate, to say the least.Mackenzie is a venal peddler of pernicious half truths and lies, who revels in ‘Poor White’ ignorance. The child’s death was caused by its mother, and her male accomplices. Idiots, of the ilk of Mackenzie, ignore this fact, as it does not fit in with their twisted agenda. Please source your commentators more wisely, in future, Media Show.
Sean Delay, Chatham 

All those connected with the lack of care for Baby 'P' should lose their jobs immediately. After what happened in the borough before should have been sufficient to prevent it happening ever again. The first to go should be Ms Shoesmith who, from the media coverage, appears to believe that her workers or her have done nothing wrong. This little child lost his life before it had really ever started. Placing him with foster parents would have prevented his death. It is time Haringey put the interests of the child before the interests of the parents.
Grace Ingram

Would Mr McKenzy like to swap his job in journalism for that of a social worker? He might then find out what overwork is!!
P Bowden

I am a retired social worker, like Susan Shoesmith, from N Ireland. Interestingly only in the Sunday Times have I read that Ms Shoesmith, Director of Childrens Services in Haringey, is not a professional social worker. In fact she comes from a teaching, school inspection background. In NI we have Health and Social Services Trusts where "generic" management has been widely adopted, except in the field of Child Protection, where professional management has been maintained. When the media, quite rightly, call the service to account and challenge the social work profession as a whole, it would be helpful if they did not label all concerned as "social workers", when in England key managers, taking the lead on critical decisions, may have been drawn from other professions.
Patricia Hyland, Haringey

All Social Workers invovled with the Baby P case should be sacked. Saying sorry just is not good enough.
Kelvin McKenzie's comments on this subject made me furious. He clearly has no knowledge or understanding of child care services, and his comment that social workers are not hard-working seemed to be based on nothing but prejudice.As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown acknowledged, child protection services have an extremely difficult job, being castigated for either doing little or too much. Obviously if anyone had known what was happening to Baby P they would have no hesitation in taking him into care. However, services have to act on the evidence they have at the time, which is often sketchy and subject to more than one interpretation. Erring on the side of caution might seem the solution, but is fraught with difficulty. In order to ensure that no child is ever killed by his or her parents one would have to take a much larger number of children away from parents who in most cases will be innocent, while "Care" itself is often a very damaging experience. It is natural for people to feel angry in situations such as this, and to look for someone to vent their anger on. However it is highly irresponsible of people in the media to fuel such anger with ill-infornmed and unjust statements.
Stephen Bamford

Just listened to the Sun Journalist, not at all impressed with his disregard for the difficult and challenging job of social work and to then suggest that they don't work hard! I would be keen to hear more about what he base's his view on; has he been a Social Worker or has knowledge about what we do on a day to day basis.  Baby P's death is awful, my concerns are also about our ability as a society to inflict such cruelty upon chilren, let's have some analysis of that by the press so that we begin to get a deeper understanding of our mental health as a society!

Kelvin MacKenzie demonstrated once again how his lack of thought and his gullibility in relation to this subject. Social workers face huge pressures in very difficult circumstances - I for one do not want to see rabble rousers like Kelvin MacKenzie making their job even more difficult. I am not a social worker but I have had enough contact with them to know that the vast majority do work hard - very hard.

I have just been listening to the article in relation to Baby P and social workers. The discussion about the 'hard working' of social workers, made me very angry indeed. I am a child protection social worker, and I will have you know, that I never have lunch, no time, I work right through. I never finish work at 5 as I am contracted to, always working over hours, by home visiting, and even when I get home, I still work on paperwork. HARD WORKING. We work a damn site harder than anybody knows. It is HIGHLY pressured, and we work long long hours, with no breaks during the day.I am incandecsent with rage at the suggestion that we are not hard working. Damn sight more hard working than most. You have no idea.

Kelvin Mackenzie's comment about social workers not being hard working, is far from the truth.Having had a parent working in social services for the past 30 years and seen the level of commitment and toll that work takes on individuals. I cannot imagine that Mr Mackenzie has any idea of what he is talking about. As a journalist myself I can only add he should research what he says before broadcasting such an ill informed comment. The reality as I understand, and has been found in many cases where children have been failed by the state, that it comes down to the excessive workload of the social services, who simply cannot cope with their case loads. The failure for Baby P is a failure of all of us.
Julia Guest

Oh dear, Social Workers not hard working. There speaks someone who does not have one in the family. Who would do work where one is regularly threatened with violence by inadequate parents for so little money? A dedicated fluffy liberal? Like our daughter!
Susan Jeannie

Kelvin Mackenzie: Get that idiot off the air. Why you use a moron like that for an informed opinion, god knows.The man is totally discredited.

Well i think that what has happened to baby p is unbelievable. Who could do something so horrible.

Ross & Brand:
I was away when the Ross & Brand ‘faux pas’ happened, so I missed what was said, but the impression received was that they both lacked civility and gave a poor example for the young - and were penalized accordingly.I wonder whether those who have been ‘throwing stones’ ever listen to John Humphrys on Today, or watch Jeremy Paxman on Tonight and share my view that almost daily their disdain for many of their guests shows a complete lack of consideration, without any civility, and sets a most deplorable example to the young.I genuinely believe that they should be punished in the same way.
A 66 year old punter

I should have commented earlier, but I am just one of the many people, I think,had opinions and didn't formally complain.I'm amazed that less than 50,000 commented on the Brand/Ross behaviour. It was deplorable. Brand did the right thing in resigning, though I see that Ponderland is still being aired? Jonathan Ross should not be employed further by the BBC. Surely he broke his contract by his behaviour.He certainly brought the BBC down with what he did. I am ashamed to think what the millions round the world, who think that the BBC has the utmost integrity and can be trusted wholeheartedly, have as their opinion now. Please do not let Ross return. How else can we protest about this. He showed a character flaw. How can he be trusted to broadcast again. His genre is the smutty and near the knuckle, and there must be millions who want this type of presenter off the air.
Sheila Bull

BBC Local:
I think I heard it said this morning that because the BBC Trust had the final say on how license fee funding was spent within the possible options, that it also, as a matter of logic, had the final word over and above OFCOM on what the BBC could or could not do. That is an absurdity. It would mean the BBC could do whatever the board of trustees wanted, with only the cutting of the license fee by parliament to limit its range of activities. As a supporter of the license fee I think that sort of abuse of power is likely end in its abolition. OFCOM (or the BBC Trust) should be able to demand, in the case of a disagreement or lack of clarity, to take it to further arbitration.
James Baring 

Children and TV:
The reason that children can very easily watch too much TV is because their eyes are constantly focussed at far too close a distance. A child brought up in the country looking over fields will often naturally focus at a mile or more away. This is the way nature would have us brought up. Too much TV and children will soon need spectacles, which is not natural.
David Vinter
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Steve Hewlett

Steve Hewlett

Steve Hewlett is a Guardian Columnist and broadcasting consultant. He is visiting Professor of Journalism and Broadcast policy at Salford University and a fellow of the Royal Television Society.

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