Earlier this spring, the Children’s Media Foundation was invited to take part in the jury for a new Children’s Broadcast Award. Having recently joined the CMF’s board, I took great pleasure in this my first official duty; as if I ever need an excuse to watch lots of children’s television programmes and discuss them over lunch.
The organisation giving the award is the Sandford St Martin Trust, an independent and non-profit organisation that seeks to promote and encourage excellence in religious programming and religious literacy amongst policy makers, journalists and individuals. To this end it has been making annual awards for the best programmes about religion, ethics and spirituality since 1978.
This year the trust has introduced a new award for children’s content. It was championed by Sandford trustee and broadcaster Roger Bolton who, like the Children’s Media Foundation, recognizes the importance of children having quality and variety in programming made especially for them: “It is critical that children and young people are exposed to imaginative works that open their eyes to the world they share and the beliefs people hold.”
There were ten programmes on the shortlist. Submissions were for radio, television and online broadcasts and came from a range of producers; from broadcasting behemoths such as the BBC to small religious charities and producers of teaching material. As a writer of fiction, I usually gravitate to drama but there were some brilliant documentaries too. There were some programmes, both fiction and non-fiction, that left me cold: a little too preachy and putting the ‘die’ into didactic. But the ones that really worked, that made me think and feel and consider in new ways, had one thing in common: people, real people’s experiences at their heart. Even the fictional ones. Their testimonies needed no explanation, no editorial interpretation. Of course there was editorial input: duh! But the programmes that worked best were constructed to let the stories, the ideas, speak for themselves.
But how can you compare a preschool radio show with a fluffy Christmas special or a hard-hitting teen documentary? That’s where children’s programming differs from the grown up stuff: it’s so much about the audience. Programmes have to be age appropriate; giving or considering a child’s perspective, and the best did just that.
Having watched the shortlist and decided which was the most fabulous and worthy winner of the award, I hied me to Westminster to meet with the other jury members: independent producer and children’s author Hilary Robinson, National Geographic Kids editor Tim Herbert and Senior Lecturer in Media Practice at Salford University Beth Hewitt.
It was a fascinating process: we each brought different perspectives and expertise and there were biscuits. We were pretty unanimous in the way we shortened the shortlist but then it got …difficult as we tried to tease out the best of the best. Like the Mole in The Wind in the Willows, we “scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then we scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped” until at last – “pop!” we had a runner up and a winner.
And the Winner is….
To be announced this evening at Lambeth Palace….
You expect me to tell you now? I’m off to get ready for tonight’s ceremony!