A magazine is not a broken iPad!

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Children's radio campaigner Susan Stranks warns that the BBC could exclude some children with its focus on new technology


This week, BBC Director General Tony Hall laid out his vision for the future.  A transcript of his speech in available here.

In a clarion call to modernise, Lord Hall outlines a bold era of innovation and opportunities to deliver BBC archive and new programmes online, via enhanced iPlayer and new conduits: BBC Store, Playlister and Open Minds, sometimes in advance of traditional broadcast. Some content will be free and some charged for, and the aim is to encourage self-selection and create a perception of 'My BBC' rather than 'The BBC'. 

Reception has been mixed, with detractors claiming the BBC is kow towing to the youth market and some doubting that licence-payers will agree to subsidise more online delivery when 17 per cent of homes cannot access it.

The BBC is a powerful driver of new technology and, having first persuaded audiences across to digital platforms and receivers, the next focus is the internet. The purpose is to free up public broadcasting capacity for auction to the telecommunications industries.

Surprisingly, to springboard his online vision, the DG offers this illustration:

'A bit of video I was looking at recently stuck with me over the past few months. It showed a toddler sitting up holding a magazine. She tries to swipe it – she tries to expand it – she bangs it to try to make it play. Nothing happens. And in frustration she throws it away. To a toddler a magazine is a tablet that’s broken. That’s how this generation is growing up. It will have a totally different set of norms and behaviours.'

Not the best justification for modernising the BBC!

That little girl doesn't need a tablet or a mobile phone or any screen and keyboard device. Her world is already disturbed by these. She needs someone sitting beside her and helping her to hold and understand the magazine – or better still a child's picture book, which too many tech-rich families lack.

She needs someone showing her how to turn the pages, talk about the pictures and explore the letters, words and colours while she learns to listen, to chat and increase her vocabulary, and develop her social and motor skills in a safe and friendly setting rather than solo screen and keyboard activity that successive learned papers blame for communications delay, attention disorders and childhood obesity.

Policy-makers tend to live and operate in cities, with access to the fastest and best fibre optics connections and the latest equipment, which puts them out of touch with much of the population.

The BBC is already guilty of driving children to internet dependence. In 2011, the BBC's Strategy for Children's Audio wrote off its remit to provide non-commercial radio for them and replaced all its radio for children aged under seven with daily podcasts that parents say need extra equipment, time and knowhow to access, compared to a preset push-button radio a toddler could operate. In addition, children in homes without internet access miss out.

New technology brings many advantages, but it must not stamp on the tried and trusted. Many households still have no internet and many others suffer slow and stuttering connection. Traditional television and radio services are widely enjoyed and represent valuable social glue. They encourage shared experiences and the discovery of content that may surprise rather than that which is always pre-selected by oneself.

The very young are too easily isolated by technology which finds parents pushing buggies with one hand while chatting on mobiles rather than to their toddlers, or at home on computers or tablets while their children do the same.

If a magazine is a tablet that's broken ... what is The Book of Kells?

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