Don’t turn a blind eye to ITC’s child-minding role

As more women enter the job market, more parental responsibility is being passed to TV. So don’t knock the ITC when ads get ‘Tangoed’.

The Independent Television Commission’s (ITC) decision last week to ban Tango’s latest television advertisement has brought the protection the 9pm watershed affords parents under the public spotlight.

The ad was moved post-watershed following complaints that it encouraged bullying. Finally, it was suspended altogether.

With more than two-thirds of children watching TV after the watershed, is there still life in this somewhat prehistoric regulation?

Children’s viewing habits are predominantly affected by the way we live together. Two in every five marriages end in divorce, seven out of ten divorcing couples have children, over a third of births are outside marriage, and a fifth of families are headed by a lone parent. That said, there are still 16 million families in the UK, of which four out of five are headed by a couple – so it’s not all bad news.

One of the triggers for this significant transformation in the way families are constructed is the number of women entering the labour force. In 1996, 61 per cent of women with dependent children were working, compared with 46 per cent in 1983. The biggest incentive to work is the financial independence it brings, giving women the confidence to move out of unhappy relationships.

A recent investigation by the Mental Health Foundation found one in five young people have experienced mental health problems. One of the root causes of this is the lack of time parents have to spend with their children as they constantly juggle elements of their daily life.

Parents are relinquishing some of their responsibilities and handing control to the world of TV.

Children seem to be spending more of their free time in their bedroom. Two out of three children now have a TV in their room, which includes half of all six- to seven-year-olds. It’s no surprise, then, that 50 per cent of all six- to eight-year-olds watch TV after the 9pm watershed. It turns out that their favourite programme recently was the sequel to Die Hard; Die Hard with a Vengeance.

If children are exposed to TV before they are put to sleep, it could affect their mental behaviour. There is also evidence that children who watch too much TV could become overweight.

With rapid technological developments bringing more screen-based activities, such as surfing the Internet, parents need to know that there is a bigger “corporate parent” out there. You could argue the ITC is that “parent”. The implementation of policies such as the watershed reassures busy parents that someone is protecting their children from the evils of the TV screen.

By eliminating the watershed, TV companies could exploit our children’s viewing by having the right to broadcast the most commercial programmes regardless of content. That’s potentially more sex and violence – all in the name of ratings.

We need to support the ITC. The ITC is the Nineties version of Mary Whitehouse.

Janma Patel is associate director of MediaVest

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