Report – What Do We Tell the Children?

Posted on: Friday 08 July 2016 12:43am by Simon Bor


How did children’s media react to the terrorist attacks in Paris last November?


  • Newsround had to react quickly as children were hearing about the scale of the atrocity
  • Le P’tit Libé had to do something to inform the younger audience
  • The problem with the media is that you don’t know who is on the other end of the screen


Recent grizzly news stories include: 250 dead in a car bomb in Baghdad; 41 at Istanbul airport; here, a British MP is stabbed and shot on the street. Stewart Purvis CBE, the chair of the RTS Journalism Awards and former Editor-in-Chief and CEO of ITN, read out a list of recent atrocities and asked the question: what do we tell the children?

To answer this question, Stewart said the DSC_6739panel would concentrate on the events at the Bataclan Theatre and Stade du France on  13 November last year. Three news clips were shown, first a ITV news report by James Mates, describing the perpetrators as: ‘Seven heavily armed psychopaths’. Next was Tom Bradby’s ITV news report the following day, which concentrated on the panic the city was now enduring. The last clip was from CBBC’s Newsround. It opened with the headline: ‘Sad news from the country of France.’ The word ‘sad’ being repeated several times in the following report as pictures of buildings, from all over the world, were shown lit up in the French colours.

After these clips a web page was shown from Le P’tit Libé, the children’s version of the French daily, Libération. This reported the events in Paris and went into the history of Islamic State in some detail. Its author was one of the panel members, freelance journalist, Sophie Gindensperger.

With Sophie was Professor Tom Billington, lecturer and child psychologist at Sheffield University, Lewis James, Editor of ‘Newsround’, and Anne Perkins of The Guardian.

Sophie said that the feeling at ‘Libération’, as the story unfolded, was that they had to do something to inform the younger audience what was going on. She indicated that she thought they had suggested that children should read the piece with their parents.

Lewis James said that ‘Newsround’ had to react quickly as children would already be beginning to hear about the scale of the atrocity. The fact that it was also connected to a major sports venue was also a factor. The idea was to avoid frightening the audience unnecessarily.

Anne Perkins, who had criticised ‘Newsround’ and praised the approach of ‘Le P’tit Libé’ in an article in the Guardian, said that the more facts you can give children, the better.

Tom, who also practices in the family court, said that the notion that children can’t deal with distress is not necessarily the case. But the problem with the media is that you don’t know who is on the other end of the screen. He raised the question of what childhood was, and that it certainly isn’t static. He thought that context was virtually everything and that children have to get used to uncertainty.

Stewart observed that a child was only one click away from the most horrific news stories from around the world.

James defended ‘Newround’ saying that some children may have seen adult news, others may not have, and in any event their web pages went into more detail about the event and contained a lot of video content. BBC’s Frank Gardner had been on hand to answer online questions and he had been truthful about the fact that this kind of event could happen in the UK, but, at the same time, reassuring the audience that the likelihood of being involved was extremely small.

Tom thought that controlling children’s access to the media was getting ‘more tricky’ and that there was an issue between regulated and unregulated space.

Stewart widened the debate and raised the question on how the issue of Brexit had been handled, where children’s families may have been divided. Anne said that her twenty-something children were furious with her generation: “How did we fail to get this demographic (18-24 year-olds) to get out of bed and vote?” She didn’t believe that we had caught up with how they consume their news.

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Simon Bor

About the author

Simon Bor


I studied Animation at Farnham, and, more recently, I have been awarded an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. I set up Honeycomb Animation with Sara Bor and have been involved in children’s television since the mid eighties. As a writer, I have co written and created several shows… Read more