Biggest overhaul to child performance regulations in over 40 years
Outdated and confusing child performance rules are to be overhauled, under sweeping changes published today by Children’s Minister Tim Loughton.
The requirements for licensing under-16s to take part safely in public performances – including television, radio, films or stage – have not been reformed since 1968.
But there is widespread concern they are now simply archaic, complex, irrelevant and overly bureaucratic – drawn up in an age with just three television channels and a handful of radio stations; predating the creation of Ofcom; and taking no account of tighter child protection legislation over the last four decades.
The current rules mean that:
Local authorities, producers and broadcasters are confused about which specific activities require a licence - meaning that many under-16s are missing out on the chance to act, sing, play music and dance in amateur and professional productions.
Councils are forced by the system to prioritise chasing applicants to fill out the right paperwork, instead of inspecting and enforcing licences.
There is little clarity over what producers, broadcasters and parents’ specific responsibilities are for protecting young performers in their care.
Today’s proposed changes, welcomed by award-winning actor and Patron of the Little Theatre Guild, Sir Ian McKellen, will:
Speed up the system by making a clear presumption that licences will be issued if it is clear that the safety and welfare of children (before, during and after performances) is not at risk.
Put a clear onus on parents to take responsibility for their own children’s activities and producers to show they have put in place robust safeguarding arrangements and thorough risk assessments before they apply for a licence.
Clarify, simplify and strengthen guidance on exactly what programmes and shows licences need to be granted for, so young people will be fully protected wherever they perform - from the West End to local theatre; television and radio; film productions, modelling and sport.
For television and radio, the proposals are that a licence will be required when children are placed in “artificial situations”, which “have been contrived for artistic, editorial or dramatic effect”. Programmes which may be billed or presented as 'observational' or 'factual', but where the experience of the child is still contrived for dramatic effect, will also require licensing. ‘Unmanipulated’ interviews with children or films showing them in the ordinary course of their lives will not need licensing.
The final decision will rest with the local authority.
The exact judgement varies from programme to programme – it will be down to local authorities to work with producers on where to draw the line.
The full list of activities exempt and not exempt for licensing are in Notes to Editors.
Make it far easier for youth and amateur productions to involve children and teenagers – by allowing producers to apply for group licences every two years, to cover all under-16s performers. Currently, they have to apply for individual children’s licences for each show, even when local authorities are content activity is low risk.
Make clear it is the role of local authorities solely to make decisions about safeguarding arrangements – not to interfere in producers’ editorial or artistic decisions or override parents’ or guardians’ judgement about what is right for their child.
With or without a performance licence, all UK broadcasters already have to abide by Ofcom’s tough Broadcasting Code to protect under-18s in radio and TV programmes. Ofcom investigates complaints post-transmission about potential breaches of the Code and has powers to impose tough sanctions.
Today’s proposals will be publicly consulted on for nine weeks.
They follow a review of the existing regulations by former chair of the Royal Television Society and former advisor to Ofcom, Sarah Thane CBE, which reported to the last government in March 2010.
There have been detailed preparatory talks in recent months, with broadcasters, theatre producers, dance companies, amateur dramatic societies, local authorities, children’s charities, modelling agencies – with there being widespread backing for change.
Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:
We want to nurture not just the big stars of the future but help all children realise their talents by being able to perform. Everyone should have the chance to act, sing, dance and play sport – giving them memories for life.
The current rules get in the way of that. They are outdated, complex, confusing and not fit for purpose. They come from an age when there were just three television channels and bear no relation to the broadcasting or performing industries in the 21st century. The rules are incredibly complex, bureaucratic and patchily applied – meaning that many amateur dramatic groups simply do not involve children in their plans, which is ridiculous.
There is widespread demand for reform and backing for our approach. Child protection must always be paramount but reams of paperwork do not keep anyone safe – responsible adults do. The new system will require producers to consider all the risks to children from the outset and make robust arrangements to keep them from harm. Children’s safety cannot be an afterthought or a box ticking exercise.
Cutting back unnecessary red tape will free local authorities to focus on helping producers to develop effective safeguarding policies, and to inspect and enforce the requirements.
Sir Ian McKellen, Patron of the Little Theatre Guild said:
I am relieved that amateur drama groups will now face far less bureaucracy before being able to engage children in their productions. The Little Theatre Guild has proposed a chaperone system that removes the need for licensed chaperones that will continue to allow Guild theatres to encourage young people in their discovery of live theatre.
Sarah Thane CBE, former chair of the Royal Television Society and former advisor to Ofcom said:
Reform of the system is overdue and badly needed. This consultation is a key step towards a modern system which increases opportunities for children to perform by reducing bureaucracy and re-focusing responsibility for their well-being. I welcome the government's overall approach and urge all the relevant stakeholders to take part and ensure that the new regime is fair, and both user- and child-friendly.
Jonathan Rallings, Barnardo’s Assistant Director of Policy, said:
The Government’s proposed review of legislation to protect child performers is timely. The law was last changed over forty years ago – back in the analogue age – and needs updating for our digital world. We fully hope that any new legislation will strike a balance between safeguarding children whilst allowing them to take part in the opportunities that the creative industries can offer.
John McVay, Chief Executive of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, said:
Pact applauds the Coalition government for acting to update outmoded and outdated legislation that has led to a postcode lottery for children, parents and producers for too long. Contrary to some extreme views all UK children wherever they live should be able to realise their talents and possibly careers in broadcasting by being able to participate in a wide range of programmes - from documentaries to talent shows - while making sure that the welfare of the child is central to their involvement.
UK broadcasters and the producers they commission are already subject to rigorous Ofcom broadcasting codes and this new legislation will build on these regulations while making sure that local authorities concentrate on inspection and not interfere unnecessarily in editorial issues. Pact is committed to working with government to ensure that this is legislation is fit for licensing children living in the 21st century.
Pact is the trade association for feature film, television, digital, children's and animation media companies.