LETTING CHILDREN BE CHILDREN

Mothers’ Union’s response to the Bailey Review

Mothers’ Union launched its Bye Buy Childhood campaign against the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood in September 2010. Mothers’ Union wishes to see the end of childhood being treated as a marketing opportunity and children being targeted with or exposed to the ‘sex sells’ approach. We welcomed the Government’s promise to address these issues in its Programme for Government and subsequent appointment of Reg Bailey to carry out this independent Review.

Mothers’ Union welcomes the recommendations made in the Review. In particular we appreciate the focus on parents’ concerns, building upon previous research into the issues. Whilst rigorous research is important, we do welcome the ‘common sense’ approach adopted in the Review.

Assessment of recommendations

1. Ensuring that magazines and newspapers with sexualised images on their covers are not in easy sight of children.

Mothers’ Union heartily welcomes this recommendation. There are many regulations governing the welfare and protection of children in other areas, such as health and safety, so it is not unreasonable to require the protection of children from imagery that is not much dissimilar to that of ‘top shelf’ magazines. We would like to see covers or modesty boards as a legal requirement and do not believe that this would be more difficult for smaller retailers – they do, after all, comply with regulations governing the display of cigarettes.

 

2. Reducing the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it.

We heartily welcome this recommendation and are particularly pleased with the suggestion that advertisers follow the example of the Outdoor Media Centre’s practice in relation to alcohol advertising in spaces near schools. We would like to see consideration of the content and placement of on-street advertising given well before adverts are placed and compliance not reliant on a complaint having been made first.

 

3. Ensuring the content of pre-watershed television programming better meets parents’ expectations.

We are very pleased to see the highlighting of the watershed and recognition of the way in which boundaries are sometimes pushed to the limit. We welcome the recommendation that broadcasters involve parents in testing standards in family viewing but recognise that parents are not a homogeneous group. We also hope that broadcasters will set a balanced agenda when conducting research amongst parents.

4. Introducing Age Rating for Music Videos.

We heartily welcome this recommendation, especially, as the Review points out, the content of music videos has changed considerably since the Video Recordings Act 1984. We would like to see the Government amend this Act and for broadcasters to be guided by the ratings in relation to the watershed.

 

5. Making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material from the Internet.

We heartily welcome the recommendation to require customers to actively choose to switch filters on or off when purchasing a new device or service. This would signify a significant cultural change and we would like to see this consideration extended to digital televisions, where adult channels are often pre-installed.

 

6. Developing a retail code of good practice on retailing to children.

We are pleased that the Review recommends voluntary codes of practice and not a prescriptive list of ‘acceptable’ clothing for children. We would like to see more detailed proposals from retailers relating to the way in which other goods and services are produced for and marketed to children.

 

7. Ensuring that the regulation of advertising reflects more closely parents’ and children’s views.

We welcome this recommendation as a means of empowering children and parents.

8. Prohibiting the employment of children as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing.

9. Defining a child as under the age of 16 in all types of advertising regulation.

We welcome these proposals as a means of clarifying who to treat as children in terms of advertising and retailing; and in recognising that young people may be less equipped to distinguish marketing from other media content. We also welcome the distinction between market research amongst and marketing aimed at children. In relation to internet advertising we would like to see the Government commit to implementing the amendment to the European Union’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, which would ask for explicit opt-in consent for cookies to be deployed in order to track internet browsing behaviour.

 

10. Raising parental awareness of marketing and advertising techniques.

11. Quality assurance for media and commercial literacy resources and education for children.

We are pleased to see the recommendation that industry and regulators should work together to improve parental awareness whilst recognising that improving media and commercial literacy in children alone is not sufficient to protect them. However, we are unsure whether industry will be sufficiently motivated to promote such literacy or indeed feel that it is justified to require them to ‘expose’ their methods and intentions. We are also concerned that the recommendation to improve children’s resilience does little to tackle the pressures that necessitate such resilience – to an extent this suggests an acceptance of or ambivalence towards excessive pressure on children to consume.

 

12. Ensuring greater transparency in the regulatory framework by creating a single website for regulators.

13. Making it easier for parents to express their views to businesses about goods and services.

We heartily welcome recommendations to make it easier for parents to make a complaint or give feedback on marketing, goods and services. The implementation of a single website to act as an interface between regulators and parents will require cooperation from all regulators, clear leadership and an equal partnership. However, we feel that such a website should not be seen as sole arbiter. We also wonder how businesses will be encouraged to provide a ‘one-click’ link to complaints/ feedback procedures – clearly trade associations would be a motivating force if they felt the idea was important.

 

14. Ensuring that businesses and others take action on these recommendations.

This Review puts great faith in the good will of manufacturers, marketers, retailers and regulators. Whilst it is important to give businesses a chance to implement recommendations voluntarily we are not convinced this will happen in all areas – if there is such good will, we wonder why better practice has not already been implemented, or why there has been a need for a number of Reviews of the issues over the past few years. The 18 month period of monitoring will need to be robust and legislative alternatives considered before the end of the period.

General comments

 

  • We agree that it is important to achieve a consensus in order to encourage action from all actors. However, we do not agree that further regulation or legislation would necessarily disempower parents – as the Review points out several times, parents want help and support to address the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood; and Government intervention would be a sure way of achieving this.
  • We also feel that the Review, to an extent, accepts the status quo and stops short of making a radical challenge to the wallpaper of our lives – it may be deemed more realistic to ‘minimise’ the commercialisation of childhood and ‘reduce the risk’ of sexualisation but we would like to see bolder aims.
  • The Review recommends several new responsibilities for the Advertising Standards Authority and Ofcom and we hope they would be sufficiently resourced to carry out these tasks.
  • Mothers’ Union embraces the challenge to redouble our efforts to hold to account those to whom the recommendations are addressed, through the continuation of our Bye Buy Childhood campaign.

 

 

For further details please contact Rachel Aston, Social Policy Officer at:

Mothers’ Union, Mary Sumner House, 24 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3RB

Email: policy@themothersunion.org Tel: 020 7222 533

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