U.K. child protection rules to be reviewed

Children's minister criticizes 'shock value' reality shows

LONDON -- U.K. Children's minister Ed Balls has demanded a review of the rules under which children can appear on television, amid fears that such shows as "Wife Swap" and "Boys And Girls Alone" have left them open to exploitation by producers and broadcasters seeking "shock value."

Speaking as the government published a report on the impact of the commercial world on children's wellbeing, the children and schools' minister said reality TV program makers were intent on "pushing boundaries" at the expense of children's welfare.

"When you come to reality TV shows we have a combination of fact and fiction and the regulations really don't cover them," said Mr Balls, speaking at the launch of the report.

But he maintained that appearances on such shows as "Britain's Got Talent" and in stage shows and movies like "Billy Elliott" should be allowed to continue.

"Where many parents, educators and ministers become concerned is when program makers seem determined to keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable to provide shock value for viewers and push up ratings -- rather than do anything positive and meaningful for our children, our culture or our country," Ball argued.

Balls has ordered former commercial TV content regulator Sarah Thane to conduct a review of the current guidelines, which date from 1968 and are administered by local authorities rather than central government.

"The incentive for the production company is to look around the country trying to find somewhere where you can get away with a little bit more," Mr Balls added, citing Channel 4's "Boys and Girls Alone" as an example of a program where the rules had failed to protect the children involved.

"Television companies' decisions about what kinds of programs to produce are also based on the potential for selling programs in international markets."

The show, which aired earlier this year, showed a group of 8-11 year olds left to fend alone in an isolated rural location in South West England without adult supervision.

The program, which was deemed to be within current regulations by media watchdog Ofcom, showed footage of children crying and fighting and ganging up on one another. Ofcom ruled that producer Love Productions had in fact maintained close adult contact with the children and taken sufficient care to protect their welfare.