Cameron-backed report to protect children from commercialisation By Patrick Wintour 3 June
Proposals include ban on sale of 'adult' pre-teen clothes, and requiring 'lads mags' to sell in brown covers.
Photo: Chris Radburn/PA
David Cameron with his wife on holiday in Spain earlier this week. A report he commissioned on the commercialisation of childhood is due to be released on Monday.
David Cameron is to back a plan to stop retailers selling inappropriate clothes for pre-teens and shield children from sexualised imagery across all media, including selling "lads magazines" in brown covers and making the watchdog Ofcom more answerable to the views of parents.
Retailers would be required to sign up to a new code preventing the sale of items for pre-teens with suggestive slogans, which the prime minister has repeatedly criticised.
The proposals come in a long-awaited report, leaked to the Guardian, on the commercialisation of childhood. It was commissioned by Cameron and is due to be published on Monday with strong support from Downing Street. Recommendations in the review, entitled Let children be children, include:
• The Advertising Standards Authority to discourage placement of billboards with sexualised imagery near schools and nurseries or other areas where children are likely to view it.
• A clampdown on sexualised and violent images shown before TV's 9pm watershed and curbs and cinema-style age rating for music videos.
• A single website to be created, to act as "an interface between parents and the variety of regulators across the media, communications and retail industries".
• Making it easier for parents to block age restricted material on the internet.
• Lads magazines to be moved to the top shelf in shops or sold in covers.
The report, which was prepared by Reg Bailey, the chief executive of the Christian charity Mothers' Union, finds "sexualised and gender stereotyped clothing, products and services for children are the biggest concerns for parents and many non-commercial organisations".
In response to his recommendations on clothing, it is expected that the British Retail Consortium, following consultation with Mumsnet, the web-based parents' forum, will announce a new code next week. It is expected to advise retailers against suggestive or gender-specific slogans on clothes, black or enhanced bras, and will propose modest swimwear for pre-teens.
Carrie Longton, the co-founder of Mumsnet, which has campaigned against suggestive children's clothes, welcomed the principle of the code. "We launched our 'Let Girls be Girls' campaign to ask retailers to commit not to sell products which play upon, emphasise or exploit their children's sexuality. Now it's great that the industry as a whole, through the British Retail Consortium, has recognised their responsibility and drafted their own guidelines to encourage more responsibility up and down the high street."
The Bailey report says the internet industry must also be ordered to "act decisively to develop and produce effective parental controls" with "a robust means of age verification" for any content that is age restricted.
It says the government should legislate for parental controls over children's use of the internet "within a reasonable timescale" if voluntary action from the industry is not forthcoming.
Some Labour politicians have, however, called for regulation to be put in place faster, and in evidence to the review the Advertising Association federation pointed out: "There is no existing mechanism to verify the age of a child ... which means children can lie about their age and register as a user".
Overall, the report gives the impression that the advertising, retail, music and internet industries have been too complacent and need to show greater willingness to engage with deep parental anxiety at what they are collectively producing for young consumers, both intentionally or inadvertently.
The report finds that "some parts of the business world and sections of the media seem to have lost their connection to parents. We are living in an increasingly sexual and sexualised culture although it is far from clear how we arrived at this point. Many parents feel this culture is often inappropriate for their children and they want more power to say no".
It condemns what it describes as the "sexualised images used in public places and on television, the internet, music videos, magazines, newspapers", and calls for public space to become more family friendly, so changing "the wallpaper of children's lives".
On the TV watershed, the report recommends that Ofcom revise its guidelines to give greater weight to the views and attitudes of parents, rather than viewers in general, as to what is shown on TV before the watershed. It also directs Ofcom to seek out the views of parents and report back annually on their attitudes.
Ofcom has dismissed previous complaints at the way in which programmes like X Factor, watched by millions of children, feature huge stars such as Christina Aguilera and Rihanna wearing few clothes and posing suggestively.
Ofcom ruled that Rihanna's routine "featured some gentle thrusting", but it was "suitably limited".
Ofcom currently has no figures on the number of complaints made about pre-watershed material by parents. It insisted that "we take the views of parents very seriously", but said it will co-operate with any proposals.
The Bailey report also calls for a website to act as "an interface between parents and the variety of regulators across the media, communications and retail industries".
It would be a means of launching complaints and gauging parental reaction to products. "Results of regulators' decisions and their reactions to any informal feedback should be published regularly on the site", the report says. Mumsnet offered to host the site.
• Retailers to ensure magazines with sexualised images have modesty sleeves.
• The Advertising Standards Authority to discourage placement of billboards near schools and nurseries.
• Music videos to be sold with age ratings.
• Procedures to make it easier for parents to block adult and age restricted material on internet.
• Code of practice to be issued on child retailing.
• Define a child as 16 in all types of advertising regulation.
• Advertising Standards Authority to do more to gauge parent's views on advertising.
• Create a single website for parents to complain to regulators.
• Change rules on nine o'clock television watershed to give priority to views of parents.
• Government to regulate after 18 months if progress insufficient.