New low for kids' tv

BLUE Peter is still with us and Bagpuss is probably getting its umpteen-hundredth repeat showing on some channel or other right now. Beyond that it's hard not to be depressed about the state of kids' TV.

BLUE Peter is still with us and Bagpuss is probably getting its umpteen-hundredth repeat showing on some channel or other right now.

Beyond that it's hard not to be depressed about the state of kids' TV.

The broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, called this week for a “national debate” on the future of children's television. And not a moment too soon.

Its report said investment in programming for young people had plummeted, leaving the young audience with “little to watch except cartoons, imports and adult shows”.

I say the ever-popular and ever-showing Simpsons ticks all three of those boxes.

Of course it's all down to market forces - one of them being that more is less. That is, more choice, less quality.

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With 25 children's channels at the last count, there is more TV being beamed at our kids than ever before. Yet the average quality of what they watch has probably not been so low since Muffin the Mule was a foal.

Even the BBC seems to have dropped the baton for those above CBeebies age, Tracy Beaker being the honourable exception.

But the real problem lies with the commercial channels. It all comes down to advertising - or the lack of it.

ITV finds it uneconomical to make quality kids' programmes when the return is so much greater on repeats and imports.

What programmes they do make are intended for international sale, so the distinctively British element is toned down. (I haven't noticed any de-Americanisation of programmes imported from the States.)

Half of what is still spent goes on pre-school programming, for the slightly scary reason that advertising aimed at parents via toddlers sells a lot of toys.

Do we really want to bring up our kids on a constant diet of advertising anyway?

Half the vocabulary and more than the half the ideas of some youngsters seem to come from TV ads - and not just the insidious pushing of junk-food.

Advertising to children is immoral, the short-term effects are a pain for parents and the long-term effects incalculable.

And yet.

Among the welter of channels available on satellite and cable was one that I was very happy for my children to watch. It was stimulating, entertaining and educational, they enjoyed it and I wasn't averse to sitting down to it with them occasionally.

It was Discovery Kids, and while it was American-owned it featured some very good British-made programmes - notably The Big Bang, which was Blue Peter-like, but with a scientific emphasis.

I'd have loved Gross when I was a nipper, full as it was with fascinating facts about things like snot, spots and excrement. And Mystery Hunters out-Scoobied Scooby-Doo by investigating genuine spooky tales and revealing the scientific facts behind them.

All in all, Discovery Kids was everything a first-rate children's channel should be.

So why am I talking about in the past tense? Because a few months ago it suddenly disappeared without warning. It simply wasn't selling enough ads.

The result is that our telly seems to have got stuck on the Disney Channel.

And if I hear the nauseating Hannah Montana theme-song, the gush of sickly canned laughter or the cutesy simpering of any of those Californian pseudo-kids again I may just commit murder. Justifiable homicide I'd call it.

How it makes me yearn for the good, wholesome programmes we used to watch when I was a pre-teen. Like Wacky Races, Yogi Bear, Batman… Then again, on second thoughts…

Today's young people are apparently eager for more good British-made drama, as their predecessors enjoyed in the heyday of Grange Hill and Byker Grove.

Mind you, I wonder whether the new generation have the attention-span to deal with drama serials.

If you thought TV itself was a cause of attention deficit, consider this detail from the Ofcom findings: Children aged from five to15 often search websites, text and watch TV at the same time.

I warned you this was going to be a depressing subject.

GEORGE W Bush has assured the rest of the world that he takes the threat of climate change seriously and vowed that the United States “will do its part” to reduce greenhouse gases.

But - you knew there was a “but” coming, didn't you - he refused to commit to any particular course of action.

He insisted it was up to each country to set its own targets - so don't expect any real belt-tightening his side of the pond.

And he stressed that combating climate change should not harm the US economy. So expect the US economy to go on harming the rest of the world.

The president could do one thing straight away to ease global warming without harming anyone. He could stop emitting so much hot air himself.

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