Question for Short Debate
My Lords, when I tabled this Question, I was not aware of the huge number of initiatives and research projects, relevant to this debate, which have taken place in recent years—at least one of which, the Ofcom study, is part of a continuous project related to how families use the internet and other media. American researchers and academics are conducting similar research into the dangers and benefits of the media in all its aspects: advertising and public relations, safety when using the internet—particularly for children accessing electronic media in their own bedrooms—and the desirability of trying to protect children from the dangers they may encounter and the influences which may impact upon their understanding of the world around them.
In a relatively short speech, it is not possible to do justice to all this work, fascinating though much of it is. But the fact that it is being done at all reflects on the need to help and educate young people about the power of the media, for both good and ill, and their need to learn how to use that power.
One major element in the media is advertising and other material in magazines directed particularly at women and girls. Members may know that my colleague in another place, Jo Swinson, recently launched a campaign to prevent magazines from artificially enhancing models’ beauty by covering skin imperfections, flattening stomachs and extending legs. I love the thought of extending legs, don’t you?
MPs who back the campaign want magazines to adopt a code of conduct that will ensure that all images which have been digitally enhanced are marked as such, and that enhanced images should be banned altogether in magazines directed at under-16s. This is not an unimportant matter. The statistics show a rise of 47 per cent in the number of under-18s admitted to hospital last year for treatment of anorexia or bulimia, and many research problems confirm the ill effects of these enhanced images on women and girls. The support given to the campaign by Equality Minister Harriet Harman is especially welcome.
As part of the work done in connection with Jo Swinson’s campaign, the Liberal Democrats asked a body of experts from around the world to provide information on the impact of idealised media images on how adults, adolescents and children think, feel and behave with respect to their body and appearance. I shall read out the nine sentences which sum up the findings. The paper confirms, first, that body image is highly significant for physical and mental health and thus well-being. Body dissatisfaction is a significant risk for mental health. Secondly, the weight of evidence documents the detrimental effect of idealised media images. Thirdly, these detrimental media effects start occurring in early childhood. Fourthly, some people seem particularly vulnerable. Fifthly, exposure to media images has long-term effects. Sixthly, alternative advertising images—for example, images of women of size 14, rather than the current mania for very thin models—are as effective in terms of selling products. Seventhly, people are neither fully aware of the influence of media images, nor of their artificiality. Eighthly, interventions that curb media influence protect and enhance well-being. Ninthly, policy debates are longstanding, but change is now happening in Europe and the USA.
In this context, an article in the Guardian quoted a number of organisations involved in manipulating images. The editor of Vogue magazine has commented on,
“the removal of any ‘flaw’ so that a new kind of human perfection has been reached ... where women don't have wrinkles or eyebags and nobody has pores or veins or facial hair”.
Another authority, Stewart Price, from Digital Retouch says that he may,
“remove a smile line here and there, make them look a little younger. You can thin out someone's neck or fix a blemish, whiten teeth, drop a few pounds—whatever is not aesthetically pleasing to our eye”.
But a former editor of Marie Claire concludes that this perfectionism is in the service of product sales, and adds that she thinks readers can appreciate a more honest approach.
Whether that last comment is true, however, is open to doubt. A 2007 study by the University of Missouri showed that all sorts of women felt noticeably worse about themselves after only three minutes of viewing models in magazine photos. Research by the University of Sussex confirms the widespread discontent among young girls as to their body image. They generally want to be at least a size smaller at an age when most of the women who contribute to the work of this Chamber were probably not paying any attention to such matters.
I want to consider another aspect of this subject, namely the potential dangers of early access to the electronic media on the part of children in their own homes. The Byron review, Children and New Technology, makes a particularly relevant contribution to the discussion of how to keep young people safe, while the Ofcom reports give us a good understanding of how parents and children organise viewing of different sorts of media, including TV, games, talking to others, and trying out different programme options.
It is clear from Ofcom that children have a variety of experience of how their access is managed. Parents try to exert power and influence on their children’s use of the internet, for example, but, as older children retreat to their own rooms, it may become more and more difficult for parents to keep up with their children’s level of expertise in using the media available to them. The year-on-year comparisons of the Ofcom analyses show that in many households children are more expert than their parents in accessing what they want to see or with whom they wish to interact. A particular problem is that poorer families have less contact with electronic media and their children may be less well armed to defend themselves against more dangerous programmes and contacts. Have the Government been able to offer any assistance to parents in these circumstances, or are there any voluntary groups, playschools, after-school clubs and so on where children will be able to acquire what are now essential skills for everyone?
The Byron review is more directly related to combating the dangers inherent in the easy availability of electronic media to inexperienced young people. Indeed, its author declares from the first the belief that,
“crucial and central to this [safety] issue is a strong commitment to changing behaviour through a sustained information and education strategy. This should focus on raising the knowledge, skills and understanding around e-safety of children, parents and other responsible adults”.
The author goes on to say that, just as we know swimming baths to have some dangerous aspects but we teach our children to swim while avoiding such dangers, so we should do the same with respect to teaching e-safety to children and young people. The need is both for adults—teachers and parents—to acquire a good understanding of issues around e-safety and for them to ensure that children acquire the skills and online safety awareness that they need. A caveat reminds us that, although children may have better online skills than their parents, that does not protect them from risky situations. The more skilled they become, the more risky encounters they may have.
The report’s conclusions seem very sensible. It argues, first, that the “staying safe” element in Every Child Matters should include e-safety. Secondly, the author notes that nothing prevents schools integrating ICT and e-safety education as part of other subjects. Indeed, it seems that primary schools already seem to manage it in this way. Thirdly, the report concludes that there is no need for “wholesale changes” to the curriculum; e-safety and media literacy should be embedded in the existing curriculum. The fourth conclusion is that teachers and staff need training in the e-safety element in the curriculum. Finally, the report recommends that the Government should encourage teachers to focus on e-safety by identifying it as a national priority for the continuous professional development of teachers and the wider school workforce. Do the Government agree with those four very practical recommendations? If so, are they being put into action already?
Few things are more important than the education of all children so that they can, as adults, play their full part in society—as parents, workers, volunteers, family members and citizens—in the broad sense of that term. I look forward to listening to the contributions of other Members of your Lordships’ House and, in particular, to that of the Minister.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, tabled this subject for debate and I thank her. The question of what education young people should have about the media is profoundly important but it does not often enough receive the serious consideration in Parliament that it should. Too often, media studies are sneered at and mocked as the epitome of the sloppy and the trendy in education.
Children and young people are today blitzed and barraged by media with unprecedented intensity and determination. Children typically spend many more hours watching television and looking at computer screens at home than they do learning in school. TV, advertising in all media, the internet, social networking and indeed print journalism, for as long as it lasts, are the context and condition of their lives from an early age. These are not merely media in which they live and move—as it were, the ecology of their lives—but forces scientifically and expertly targeting them.
So children need to be equipped with skills for survival in this mediated existence. Ninety-nine per cent of children aged eight to 17, the Government tell us, now have access to the web and to the virtual world that it opens up. Eighteen per cent of children, we are told, have come across harmful or inappropriate content online. I do not know how “harmful” or “inappropriate” are defined for the purpose of this statistic. I suspect that the bullying and manipulation of the fashion industry, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, spoke powerfully just now, are not taken into account here. At any rate, it is right that online safety is to be made a compulsory part of the curriculum from age five, and I welcome the green cross code.
As children grow, they need a developing awareness of the nature of the media, which are omnipresent in their lives, and of the forces acting on them. They need to understand what powerful persuaders and propagandists are trying to do to them and what they themselves are trying to do in response as they adapt to mediated life. Otherwise, young people will be unable to become independent, self-aware, self-determining, responsible agents—which, I presume, we should be aiming for in education.
As politicians, we are apt to applaud the so-called creative economy and give thanks for its exceptionally rapid growth in Britain and its contribution to employment and exports. We do not think enough about its psychological and moral effects on those who are ill equipped educationally to deal with it. We may tut-tut about the tyranny of fashion and celebrity. Every now and again, we have a more acute spasm of anxiety about copycat conduct, as in the Jamie Bulger case, where there was evidence that the boys who murdered Jamie were re-enacting scenes from a video. We may be startled by reports about the latest computer game sensation. It may be “Modern Warfare 2”, “Assassin’s Creed 2” or “Left4Dead2”, with more and more people playing at killing more and more people and more luridly. But we are liberal, we do not like to be prudish or spoilsports, and it may just be that some of us are not entirely up to date in our knowledge of some of that.
We can be sure that today’s media are not activated by Reithian values—nor do I wish the media to be preachy or culturally authoritarian. I do want young people to be educated to have a critical capacity, to be discriminating. That is what I mean by media literacy. I notice that the term “media literacy” is commonly used in a technical, neutral sense: young people are to learn IT skills as they are to learn to read and write. Being able to work the gadgetry, to operate the technology, is only a preliminary. What then matter are questions of significance, of value.
The words “literacy”, “criticism” and “discrimination” have shifted in common usage. Literacy once denoted not just the capacity to read but being relatively well read and having a humane appreciation of literary style and quality. Criticism, in the sense of the term inherited from Matthew Arnold by IA Richards and FR Leavis, was a moral endeavour, a rigorous inquiry into authenticity, quality, how literary effect was achieved and what literary greatness meant. Discrimination was an educated capacity to recognise fine distinctions of literary and moral purpose, means and effect. Those terms are still used in those earlier senses in expert discussion and, indeed, in the national curriculum documents, but for most people today they have different and more neutral or negative connotations.
I see an analogy between the history of the slow acceptance and development of English literature as an educational discipline and the slow progress of media studies in schools.
A hundred years ago, the study of English literature struggled to secure a place in grammar school and university curricula. There was not yet a convincing methodology for teaching Eng Lit. Philology was grimly established, but literary critical technique was undeveloped and lacking in intellectual rigour, and was denounced as such—in some of the grander public schools until well into the second half of the 20th century. Our literary heritage was commandeered as propaganda to serve various ideologies and sentimentalities about patriotism and nationhood. An educated person was supposed somehow to absorb, pretty well without being taught, a knowledge of great drama, poetry and novels. Gradually, however, English became a serious, respectable discipline. When well taught, systematic and rigorous study of literature confers enhanced delight in literature as art, better understanding of how words can most tellingly be used, a more acute awareness of an author’s intentions and a more developed capacity to understand human motive and to distinguish different kinds of moral conduct. All of that is an education for citizenship and democracy.
Well conceived and practised study of the media will confer equivalent benefits. We should pay tribute to some of the pioneers of media education in this country: Cary Bazalgette, Colin MacCabe and Stuart Hall. Study of the media has certainly gained ground in the national curriculum in the work that has been developed in technology and the media, English and citizenship, but it is still at an early stage. It needs to enlarge the bridgehead. Given the ubiquity, aggression and power of the media and, to put it more positively, the immense intellectual and creative energies of film, television and other media, media studies should surely be central to the school curriculum. We should see to it that critical study of the media fortifies and enriches every young person in their capacity for an independent, capable and confident engagement with the world around them.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for introducing this debate and for raising so many interesting points, as has my noble friend Lord Howarth.
I want to talk about one particular aspect of children and the media. This concerns child internet safety. My Private Member’s Bill on age verification passed through all its stages in your Lordships’ House earlier this year. I hope that the Government will support the principles of that Bill, which basically seeks to protect children from internet dangers by insisting that systems are in place to determine whether people buying over the internet meet the minimum age. Young people can, and in test cases have, easily purchased pornography, alcohol, knives and so on through the internet.
The question today is about trying to ensure that pupils in school have a better understanding of the influence of the media. I suggest that this is a difficult task. Young people like the media in all their forms. I am delighted that personal, social and health education is to be a statutory subject of the curriculum. PSHE should encourage informed decision-making about a whole range of issues, including drugs and alcohol, sexuality, diet and how the media might be used sensibly. Teaching resistance to pressure and assertiveness are part of that process. I believe that resistance to media pressure may be very difficult. Young people naturally take risks and risk-taking is exciting; the media often encourage risk-taking to an unacceptable level.
I suggest that the law has a part to play in protecting children as well as the imperative to help them to protect themselves through example and education. I also believe that there is a place for public education campaigns to alert parents and families about the dangers of some media influence. The purchase of online goods and services by underage children is one such example.
The media, including the internet, can entertain, inform and instruct, but they must act responsibly, particularly with regard to children. Parents and schools cannot do it all. Use of the internet has increased dramatically. In 1999, only 9 per cent of the UK population could access the internet from home. Between 2000 and 2004, this percentage increased by 126.5 per cent. Fifty-eight per cent of us use the internet. Close to 90 per cent of teenagers have a personal TV, as do 60 per cent of five and six year-olds.
The problem with the massive use of the internet is that children are vulnerable to being exploited. Professor Tanya Byron, who was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, spelled out the many challenges relating to children and their use of the internet in her report last year. The Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety launched its Digital Manifesto earlier this year. Its recommendations include blocking access to all known child abuse websites, protection from access to age-restricted goods and services, and data protection. It calls for a review of progress on the take-up and use of child safety software in the consumer market and incentives for firms to develop new technical measures designed to help to protect children and young people online.
In the Gambling Act, Parliament made it compulsory for all online gambling sites to devise methods of determining the age of everyone who came on to the sites. Such provisions came into force in 2007 and seem to be working well. Specialist companies carry out verifications. Online retailers of age-restricted goods and services should have effective systems in place to prevent underage sales. The law does not sanction underage sales but the law is being manipulated. Companies should be providing online and effective ID checks in order to screen underage people.
It is easily possible for children who are under age to purchase from the internet. A 14 year-old boy was recently, in a test case, able to buy a prepaid card with cash at a local store. Card retailers say that their cards can be sold only to people who are aged over 18, but the boy was not questioned about his age. He bought pornographic videos from Amazon and knives from Tesco; they were delivered to his home and personally signed for. Oddbins delivered some vodka to his home and he was able to bet on a football match online. In the light of such temptation and excitement, I wonder how influential the school curriculum might have been, or might be. No, the law needs to step in.
I saw recently in the press that Microsoft and Tesco were joining forces to start marketing and selling videos and films over the internet. Apparently they are going to be sold as downloadable items. We will no doubt see more of this kind of thing happening. Any product that is capable of being digitalised will be digitalised and will be sold online. TV programmes, advertisements and games are already available. Perhaps I may remind Tesco and Microsoft, as other companies have been reminded before, that many of these items are the subject of legally prescribed age limits. If companies cannot satisfy themselves that they can sell these items legally over the internet, then, frankly, they should not be selling them at all.
I mentioned the gambling industry. Under the Gambling Act 2005, having a robust online age verification system in place became a condition of obtaining a licence to provide gambling services online. Perhaps we should have the same condition for all services online—that is, any company that wishes to sell age-restricted goods online should obtain a licence, which would confirm that they had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the law was not being broken. That is precisely what my Private Member’s Bill sought to do. I still hope that the Government will adopt the principles of my Bill and ensure that it becomes enshrined in legislation.
Children need protection from age-restricted online sales. They also need education about the media. Does the Minister sympathise with this, and do the Government have plans to improve child internet safety as well as encouraging the teaching of skills to resist pressure?
My Lords, my noble friend's debate is one which we feel we have covered before; but we have never covered it before from quite this angle. There is always a danger when preparing for such debates that you will go back to nurse—to the way it was done before. When I heard that this debate was about the influence of the media, I immediately thought about the old argument, which was only a small part of my noble friend’s argument, about acceptable ways of presenting information on the body to children and how it will influence them. The reason I thought that is probably down to an extremely good joke—which I think I heard on “The News Quiz”, though I am not quite sure who the comic was—at the expense of one Karl Lagerfeld, who apparently said that size 0 models are attractive and sell more. As the comic pointed out, Karl Lagerfeld might not be the best person to say what makes an attractive woman. I will probably be accused of prejudice from various quarters, but I think that the comic’s point was well made.
What are you trying to do with the image? What will your body be used for? I always approach such questions from the sportsman’s angle and the fact that there is no “perfect male body”. However, there are perfect male bodies for doing various types of sports and functions. Females, who are in the ascendant in number here, will probably have their own idea of the most pleasant body to look at. However, the perfect body to be a middle-distance runner is not the same as the perfect body to be a front rower in a rugby scrum, a basketball player or a gymnast. Reports talk about the model’s image, but it is actually the marketing man’s idea. This is where the enhancements that my noble friend talked about come in.
Size 14 is the normal female shape. The sportsman side of me says and the sports fascist says:
“Get out there and get running and all become size 12”.
Is that realistic? What is the balance between encouraging somebody to be healthier and to achieve something that is realistic? We must look at how we are going to achieve it. Greater education in the true sense of the phrase is probably a very strong aspect of it. Examining how we get into this argument is another example. There is aesthetics and there is use of your body. Do we actually promote the marketing of physical activity? That is a very old argument which I have gone back to far too often in this House. It was described to me once that exercise is the wonder drug for the National Health Service. How are we going to encourage people to take exercise that suits their body, that they will enjoy, that they will be successful at: exercise that not only suits their physical characteristics but also their mental ones? A huge education pack comes into this field.
If you regard your body merely as something to be displayed or as an ideal that should be displayed, you cut out far more people from looking at it. There will be one image. The fashion industry takes most of the pounding here but it may not be the only example. How do we approach this? How do we get the education within the system? At school, it may be a case of intervening early enough to tell people that their bodies will all be different shapes and sizes. There is no perfect shape—you cannot be everything.
The male of the species gets a slightly easier deal here. As I understand it from some of the briefing I received, the model male effectively is the tall, thin person with the wide shoulders who does certain exercises and has muscles that stick out. The ideal is basically a smaller version of the heavy pumped up bodybuilder. You have to tell people that bodybuilders get this way only by stripping all the fluid out of their bodies. They can maintain this only for short periods of time to keep the muscle mass going and then they can display it only for a short time. They have stripped so much fluid out of their systems that they probably could not run a mile without dying—I have probably overstated the case. Still there is a price to pay.
If we can try to get the message across that you cannot have it all in terms of physical image we will take a step forward. We have got to try to address this in the round. Just wailing and protesting that it should not happen is not going to work. How do I know that? We have been doing that for a long time. I do not know when I first heard that all models were too thin and how unhealthy it was, but it has got to be at least 20 years ago. I am sure it goes back further than that.
We have to try to get a new approach. Merely protesting about it will not work. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, made a good point about new media and other images. It was a good attempt and a good approach to try to handle it. Also inherent in the argument is that there is only so much control we can bring in without being overly restrictive. We are always on this and the noble Baroness is taking her turn at balancing on a knife edge. You can slip either way. I applaud her courage totally and dread following it. What we have to do is try to get this balance right. The idea of educating to see there are right and wrong ways of doing things is important. However, we must not overplay it.
Are the video games referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, a worse example of what happens with violence than the black and white films of my childhood? Then if you were shot with a high calibre handgun you put your hand to your chest and went “oh they got me” and died without a murmur. What is a worse image of violence? What is a worse image of what it is about—the Sam Peckinpah blood and guts splashed everywhere or that? What encourages the use of violence as not having a downside? I do not think it is a discussion we have often enough. So if we take on the images and look at what is going on, we will probably be in a better state.
The current government campaign showing what knives actually do to people is good, as are the adverts shown later at night when we do not expect school pupils to be watching television. They show what happens if you get absolutely drunk on 14 pre-mixed cocktails and end up falling about on the way home. We have probably all seen the one showing the young girl. That is probably a better way of educating people and addressing the issues than just saying it is dreadful. We must address the world we are in.
We must also remember that when talking about the young, the impression given for as long as I can remember is that society is going to come to an end because the young are so appalling. I can recall the reaction to people with long hair, then people with short spiky hair, then people with floppy hair and very different clothes. They were all going to destroy society. They all had a go and they all failed. We may not like all the different bits of society, but they have always been there, and whether they are bigger or smaller is a matter for debate. I suggest that what is required is an ongoing process because there is no right answer, merely a right answer for the moment.
I return to the subject I started with. I have a couple of photographs of size zero models with me that I will not show because they would not appear in the record. They reflect what I call “concentration camp chic”. If such a look is encouraged in the system, it has an effect on young girls, who are one of the most vulnerable groups. They need to be helped to get away from these impossible images that may even have been airbrushed so the fact that someone who has got to that size may have appalling skin does not show. Trying to reveal it might be a way forward. Let us try to show the price that has to be paid for a certain look.
Even a professional athlete becomes a figure of health only because he eats five meals a day, sleeps more than we would, trains harder and for longer, and has no social life for 10 to 15 years because he does not go out at night. We should let people know that there is always a price to pay. The rewards may justify that kind of life and we may applaud it, but often it is a place that only a few can reach.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for introducing this important debate. As I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about size zero models, I was reminded of an article in the Guardian just before the last election. It said: “Sandy Verma, Tory poster girl”. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a wonderful tribute”. While the article horrified my children, it gave hope to every 40-plus, size 16-plus, 5 foot 3 inch-or-under woman in Great Britain. That is the point, I think, that the noble Lord was trying to make. However, I shall go back to my script now that I have got that off my chest.
It is undeniable that, rightly or wrongly and be it positive or negative, the media leave a lasting impression on our children and young people. With emerging media forms such as social networking, user-generated content, online communities and social worlds, online gaming and peer-to-peer file-sharing, new challenges and questions are posed. Half of these even I still do not understand, but not for a second should we underestimate the power and potential of these media for impressing both good and negative effects on our children and young people, as positive attitudes towards social integration, learning and education, cultural experience and identity formation are many of the skills that have been lost through the fracturing of our communities. It can be argued that through using the media actively, children and young people can be educated to recognise the potential risks and benefits in a safer environment.
However, concerns about the harmful effects of the media on children and young people are rarely absent from the headlines. The dangers from the internet are linked to sexual exposure, video games linked to violence, and magazines linked to emotional insecurities and illnesses such as anorexia in teenagers. These are but a few of the associated themes. It is vital that parents and schools both play their part in helping children to understand and utilise the positive benefits that can be achieved, yet ensuring that they hold firmly the levers of control in their hands so that where young people are not able to decipher the message through whatever medium they are exposed to in order to know what we think is acceptable, an adult can step in and take responsibility.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced his plans on internet safety becoming a compulsory part of the curriculum from next year for those over five. I should like a little more clarity on that announcement. First, what form will the plan take? Will it be a separate lesson or part of another lesson? Who will teach it and be responsible for creating the guidelines? Will existing teachers deliver these lessons and how will the information be passed on to parents, who will undoubtedly need to reinforce the importance of internet safety at home? How much does the Minister estimate the cost of the programme to be? How will we monitor its success or failure?
While internet safety is important, will the Government recognise that the seriousness of other forms of media and their influence on young people is equally important? What plans do the Government have to take action to address the problems identified by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in magazines, for example? We wish to ensure that parents are at the forefront of these campaigns. It is first and foremost their duty to ensure that what their children and young people access is age-appropriate and provides positive information to make the right choices. It is crucial that along with schools, they are part of the solution and not just bystanders on government initiatives.
Although I support wholeheartedly efforts to improve our children and young people’s safety, especially from the harmful effects of the media, I believe that this may not be the method to achieve such aims. Much thought needs to go into how action will manifest itself into reality. Our schools are already overstretched, often understaffed, and subject to ever-increasing demands. While we on these Benches appreciate the reasoning behind the teaching of media safety in schools, and the influences of the media on our children, surely the main focus of schools should be teaching core academic subjects and giving children the ability to develop critical thought processes so that they can decipher what is right and wrong through whatever exposure to media they receive.
We believe that giving more powers to schools, giving heads control over their budgets, with a less prescriptive national curriculum and freedom regarding who they employ, would allow them to do more to educate children about the influence of the media in the contextual needs of those individual schools. Given that many schools are still unable to reach the core skills required by the curriculum, we do not wish to distract them by handing them even more Whitehall diktats and directions. I look forward to the Minister’s response because these questions are incredibly important, not just to us in the Chamber but to parents who will be listening to the debate carefully.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for calling this debate today, and for the contributions which have been a pleasure to listen to. As others have said, I will not be able to do justice to all the points raised, or to those which should be responded to, in the time available, but I will write to noble Lords on those that I miss out.
I shall endeavour to provide a good overview of what work the Government are doing in response to these kinds of questions. We all agree that the media are everywhere in our lives—particularly in the lives of young people who have access, which no one could have dreamt of 10 years or even five years ago. The percentage of young people with access to the internet is rising sky high. The explosion of new media has taken many of us by surprise, and like many noble Lords, I find it hard to imagine what it is like being a young person now living in a virtual world, as well as living in the real one.
To make some general points, it does not do justice to this complex issue to have a polarised debate, which pits two extremes against each other. That is sometimes what happens on this subject outside the House. One view is to blame the media for the woes of society and casts children and young people as hapless victims while another argues that those same children and young people are sufficiently knowledgeable and media savvy to understand exactly how to respond to the wave of information and messages they encounter daily. It is not that simplistic. As ever, your Lordships’ House is cognisant of that.
This does seem to me to be overly simplistic. There can be no doubt that access to the wide range of media now available can be hugely beneficial to our children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said. It offers children important opportunities, for example in terms of entertainment, learning, creativity, cultural experiences and social networking. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Howarth on this. There are great opportunities, but at the same time we need to recognise the risks, as my noble friend Lady Massey set out and as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said in her opening speech.
For example, new research that is to be published tomorrow, and has already been referred to, shows that 18 per cent of children said that their parents do not know what they do on the internet. This is an important issue. That is why the Prime Minister, who takes this very seriously, yesterday launched “Click Clever Click Safe”, the UK’s first internet safety strategy which sets out what we are collectively doing to keep children safe online. We believe this is the first strategy of its kind produced anywhere in the world, and it follows on, as noble Lords are aware, from the Byron review and the very comprehensive analysis that Tanya Byron made there.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Verma, and of course my noble friend Lady Massey, asked about the Byron review and the Government’s response. As I have said, “Click Clever Click Safe” was launched yesterday by the Prime Minister, but this came about because of the establishment of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety in response to Tanya Byron. This brings together government, industry and charities to take a comprehensive and partnership approach. Over 140 organisations and individuals have come together to help develop this strategy. In response to Tanya Byron’s report, the Government have launched a major public awareness campaign which will come over the next two years, based on new research into what support parents and children are looking for. This is going to be a funding commitment of around £9 million to support the campaign on child safety, and includes a focus, as noble Lords will be pleased to hear, on issues like cyber-bullying.
Also in response to the Byron review, we have been working to give those who work with children, such as teachers, social-workers and childcare-workers, access to free, high-quality resources—for example, through the development of our Know IT All site for teaching materials, which is accessible through DCSF. These are very high-quality free teaching materials that will be available specifically for secondary teachers from March 2010.
Also, we have seen the launch of the Green Cross Code, “Zip it, Block it, Flag it”. This has been developed with children and young people and of course builds on the work and expertise of CEOP. We hope that this will become, from a very early age, from primary school, as all-pervasive as “Stop, Look and Listen” was for the Green Cross Code when we were growing up.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, asked how we will know if any of this makes any difference. She is right to do that because what we have done through the UK strategy is to put some very tough evaluation measures in there, and we will be asking parents and children whether a difference has been made.
We will also be publishing soon the report from Professor David Buckingham on the impact of the commercial world on children and young people’s well-being, together with the Government’s response. I cannot anticipate that report too much, but I will make sure that noble Lords have sight of it as soon as it is out.
The first work we need to do is to support schools, as many noble Lords have said, and help them to enhance the media literacy of their pupils, to help them stay safe and enjoy the opportunities that both the old and new media have to offer. My noble friend Lord Howarth referred to media literacy extending beyond technical skills. He is right. I was interested in his comparison with the development of English literature. It can play an important role in helping children navigate their way through the media maze and to become critical evaluators of what is presented to them, not only in the media but otherwise in life, too. These life skills are important and we need to do much more work on that aspect of media literacy. It is core business for the education system.
The second area in which we need to do more is where, notwithstanding the considerable social change in recent decades, the ecology of families is such that parents are also key participants in their children’s engagement with the media—and so they should be. We want to look at how best to help parents to guide their children to help them deal with the commercial messages transmitted via the old and the new media. Where children and young people display risk-taking behaviour such as my noble friend Lady Massey described, it is all the more important that we empower parents to act positively in the face of the internet and new media so that they can help young people—particularly teenagers—as they take risks in the online world. We will say more about this in the Green Paper on families that we will publish next year.
It is also important that the regulatory framework keeps pace with technical developments and the subsequent new media techniques that might be directed at children. Following public consultation on the guidelines for advertising through broadcast and non-broadcast media, the relevant codes are currently being revised. We are working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that the well-being of children is given a priority. This was a matter of great concern to my noble friend Lady Massey. We welcome the fact that the Internet Advisory Bureau has developed a set of good practice principles for online behavioural advertising which came into force in September 2009.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, raised the question of body image. The Channel 4 programme “How to Look Good Naked” has been running an online petition calling for a body image confidence lesson to be included in the school curriculum. Personal, social, health and economic education already includes provision of information on how to lead healthy lifestyles and offers opportunities for young people to develop confidence on these issues. However, the Government announced recently their intention, which was widely welcomed in the House, to make PSHE part of the statutory national curriculum. Provisions to this effect have been included in the Bill currently in the other place.
In primary schools, children will learn about healthy lifestyles and how the body changes with the approach of puberty; in secondary schools they will start to learn about the physical and emotional changes that take place at this time. There is considerable flexibility for schools to determine how they present learning in areas such as this and guidance will be produced early in 2010 to support schools. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will meet with the presenter of “How to Look Good Naked”, Gok Wan, to discuss this question. I know he is looking forward to that meeting.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, referred to airbrushing. I am aware that the post-production retouching of images in advertising is a common practice in order to show a product—or, in many cases, a woman, a real person—in the best light. This is an issue of great concern. If the Advertising Standards Agency finds that an advertiser has used airbrushing or image-enhancing techniques in a socially irresponsible and misleading manner, it can act. This is an extremely new area of concern and I am delighted that my right honourable friend Harriet Harman is supporting the campaign.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about perfect male bodies and the diverse physiques that are required to excel in different sports. The noble Lord touched on a really important point, not just for boys but for girls too. Physical activity, sport and participation in sport, which we are promoting through campaigns such as Change4Life and the five-hour commitment for sport in schools, are essential. It is really important that we get girls participating in sport, because it is through developing physical confidence that we can help to give them better body confidence.
I am running out of time and it is so unfair, because there is so much more to say, but I will pick up on any additional points which I should have made. I was delighted with the story of our noble poster girl; it is a wonderful note on which to end. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for making this debate possible and I apologise for not picking up on everything.
House adjourned at 7.41 pm