Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

Balls criticises 'shock value' television shows

Television gallery
Child performance regulations need to be updated, say ministers

Children in television shows need more protection from programme makers trying to "push the boundaries", says the children's secretary for England.

Ed Balls says the regulations on children appearing on television have failed to keep pace with changes in reality television.

He attacked programmes that used children for "shock value".

There is to be a review of child performance regulations, which have not been updated since the 1960s.

Mr Balls said this was not an attack on the idea of children participating in television - and he praised shows such as Britain's Got Talent and Billy Elliott.

Chasing ratings

But he warned that regulations might not be "fit for purpose" for some modern TV programmes - and raised concerns that some formats were "stressful" for children taking part.

"Where many parents, educators and ministers become concerned is when programme makers seem determined to keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, to provide shock value for viewers and push up ratings," said Mr Balls.

He mentioned that there had been concerns about programmes such as Boys and Girls Alone, which looked at how unsupervised children behaved.

Mr Balls said that there was a gap in regulations between factual programmes and entertainment.

"There are a group of programmes in the middle where you have children who are neither involved in a factual documentary, or as a performance," he said.

Updated code

The review of rules protecting performing children is to be carried out by Sarah Thane, a former chair of the Royal Television Society.

Due to report back in February 2010, the DCSF review in England will be carried out alongside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - and the devolved bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Balls says there needs to be a code that reflects changes in modern entertainment - reflecting both changes in television and different attitudes towards child protection.

The announcement of the review comes as the findings of a report on the commercialisation of childhood are published.

The report from David Buckingham calls for greater media literacy among young people - so they will be better-informed consumers.

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