Thinking Differently – Lord Puttnam’s speech.

Posted on: Wednesday 06 July 2011 7:04pm

Jayne Kirkham listens to the keynote speech by David Puttnam.

Introduced By:
Anna Home, Chair, The Children’s Media Conference
Produced by:
Greg Childs, Editorial Director, The Children’s Media Conference

I know there have been workshops all afternoon but this is when the CMC really begins – the first time the keynote has been held in such opulent surroundings – oak panels and gilded goats lending an air of dignity and anticipation.  And Lord Puttnam didn’t let us down.  Maker of films such as The Killing Fields and now an active member of the House of Lords, Lord Puttnam has always seen the value of thinking differently and crossing what seem uncrossable boundaries. He felt that the theme of this year’s conference, Thinking Differently is absolutely the Right One. The days when creators of moving images assumed they had exclusive control over content are gone forever.  Pronouncements of critics matter less than the users of facebook and twitter.  And young people right across the world no longer trust the older generation, its politicians or corporations.  We have let them down very badly.  Winning back their trust is essential if we are to equip them to cope with the world we bequeath them. To win their trust back we must better understand their world. VOD, mobile phones, online are all part of the child’s landscape. There is every likelihood that kids will need to make tougher decisions than we ever did so media, especially public service content, is vital in helping them make those decisions. But, Puttnam asked, with the coalition government pursuing public policy that is increasingly about deregulation and where the concept of plurality is being reduced to market forces, so that a company accused of hacking could be given a major role in our media landscape; is that really a media landscape we want to give our children.  The need for regulation in the digital world is just as necessary now as it ever was.  Regulation needs to be different but not less.  It will be interesting to see what the Government does with the recent Bailey review (The Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union carried out an independent review looking at pressures on children to grow up too quickly). Will a coalition so averse to taking action against big powerful companies really get to grips with the powerful commercial interests when it comes to protecting children? Lord Puttnam felt that the old financial arguments of levies and tax relief in a time of hardship are no good when Exchequer funding is in short supply.  But lottery money, he said, is a possibility. In fact this is where the possibilities become interesting.  Chris Smith’s review of Film presents an opportunity to make the case for children’s films.  The moving image is moving closer to heart of education – our poor concept of literacy must expand to include moving image.  Well selected images can breath life in even the dullest of curricula. UK copyright proves problematic.  We need to take away the ambiguities regarding educational use so that teachers can reach their students more effectively.  One teacher recently used the War Poets, Saving Private Ryan and the protest songs of the 60s to discuss war.  The students all found the film the most powerful medium but what would have been even more effective would have been if the teacher could have allowed the students to put their own sound track over the film images – mash it up like they would at home. Puttnam said it is ridiculous that we saddle ourselves with a legal system that makes it impossible for schools to be this inventive in their teaching.  But hand in glove, with the right to sail digital seas, come a whole wealth of responsibilities – do as you would be done by and respect creator rights. We must square the circle of the expectations of this new generation with the disciplines required to keep the show on the road. Protect the creator but allow the teacher to connect with their pupils better.  As society is being reordered by digital media, so education must be too. Puttnam concluded that there are two different approaches to technology.  The first is to use it to support what already exists – like putting a man with red flag in front of the train.  If all you do with technology is use it to support existing practices why would you expect new results?  Lord Puttnam called on the delegates to think about what a digital curriculum would look like rather than a digitized curriculum.  He challenged us to think about the ramifications of how children think about the world.  At least one generation now thinks very differently from the previous. Do we find new ways or protect the ones we know?