This week a report regarding advertising  aimed at children called “Letting Children be Children; Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood” was published. This report looked into whether or not businesses were acting appropriately in their marketing strategies for minors. It sounded reasonable to me at first but then I started getting a bit suspicious when I heard how they researched the topic. Before I tell you how they did it why don’t you have a think; if you were tasked with investigating the effect that sexual advertising has on children (never mind the nightmare of defining what is and is not sexual or appropriate) how would you go about it. Take a moment…

The Emperors New Clothes; blatant sexualisation of children's books

If anywhere in your plans there was the idea that to investigate the effect that sexual advertising has on children you should research any effects that sexual advertising have had on children then give yourself a pat on the back, you are a person in possession of a brain. Those of you who thought deeper than this initial point may have surmised that published research by child psychologists, evidence from academic sources and interviews with experts in the field might be good ideas. Unfortunately the group does none of this. Instead it sent out questionnaires, held focus groups with concerned parents and copied and pasted opinion polls from previous government reports, it also is filled with the persona beliefs of the authors such as “The world is a nasty place and children should be unsullied by it until they are mature enough to deal with it” and my personal favourite “we believe that a truly family-friendly society would … reinforce healthy norms for adults and children alike “. I won’t even go into the report’s shocking misuse of the term “evidence” or how it can advise moving “lads mags” to the top shelf on the basis that 15% of those polled had a problem with them. Suffice to say anyone who has ever done a statistics 101 module would laugh if they didn’t die on the spot. This report whose head author is Reg Bailey (Chief Exec of the Mothers Union) is so full of traditional-values backed up by “we believes” rather than “studies show” that it must have made David Cameron weep with orgasmic, big-society joy when he read it.

I don’t have time to do a long and detailed debunk (for one thing some of us have to do real research, I can’t get away with claiming “I believe” at a Viva) but luckily I don’t have to. The lovely Dr Brooke Magnanti (author of Belle de Jour) has already done it and I would implore you to read it.

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  1. #1 by Dan Clarke on June 7, 2011 - 3:53 pm

    The most surprising/hilarious thing to emerge from this article is that Reg Bailey, an elderly man, is the Chief Exec of the Mothers’ Union.

  2. #2 by John Slough on June 7, 2011 - 4:04 pm

    I agree. The lack of scientific scrutiny in this study isn’t surprising; given the way studies are being used and conducted by this government at the moment . Unfortunately the Conservatives have an agenda to push; and the recommendations that are being pushed are usually not supported by any kind of verifiable evidence.

    A study conducted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs quantified the value of the ecosystem in our country. The belief that we can economically value the price the environment is totally illogical and dangerous, but it’s part of the strategy by the current government to use scientifically questionable studies to back their ideological vision. Due to the lack of scrutiny by the press currently, these studies are going unnoticed. Worrying stuff.

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