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Urgent action called for to end decline in children's TV

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin: children's television is in terminal decline because of ever-shrinking budgets, according to those who make it.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin: children's television is in terminal decline because of ever-shrinking budgets, according to those who make it.

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Schedules will soon be made up entirely of repeats, cartoons and American imports unless urgent action is taken to shore up the UK children's television industry, it was warned last night.

Floella Benjamin, the former Playschool presenter, is fronting a campaign to save children's television in the UK.

Organised by Pact, the industry body which represents independent television companies, the campaign calls for action to be taken by the government to safeguard the future of quality British-made programmes.

While research from Ofcom shows the output of children's television from public service broadcasters has more than doubled since 1988, the growth has been driven mainly by repeats.

Last year, just 17% of children's programmes broadcast in the UK were made here, while first-time broadcasts of British programmes now make up only 1% of output, according to a report from Ofcom.

Ms Benjamin said: "British kids' television has always been an inherent part of our culture. For generations, the programmes aimed at kids have been celebrated not only for their strong content and challenging views, but for the endless choice. Kids' television has, for many, provided a rite of passage. However, the continued reduction in funding that has taken place in the last few years has resulted in a fall in the number of new programmes made.

"Without immediate action, this spells the end of British kids' television as we know it."

For decades British-made children's shows enjoyed an unrivalled reputation, with programmes sold across the world. However, it is feared the heyday of children's programming in the UK is over.

The campaign was launched to coincide with the Children's Baftas last night.

At the ceremony, hosted by Keith Chegwin in London, the animated musical Happy Feet was named best feature film, beating, among others, the film adaptation of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

However, in a separate category for the best film as voted for by children The Simpsons Movie was the winner. CBeebies won best channel, and Aardman - creator of Wallace and Gromit - was named independent production company of the year.

CBBC Newsround's The Wrong Trainers, which turned real stories about child poverty into animated films, won the factual category while the special award went to Mick Robertson, presenter of ITV show Magpie in the 1970s.

He said: "All my programmes have been in the factual entertainment genre which is fast disappearing from children's screens because of its minority appeal."

Laurence Bowen, producer of My Life As A Popat whose director Charles Martin won the best breakthrough talent award last night, said: "Unless immediate action is taken then the 2007 kids' Baftas will be seen historically as the wake for children's television.

"ITV and Channel 4 have pulled out of financing children's television production. Five has pulled out of making television for the over-fives, and the BBC has cut its children's television budget by 10%.

"The industry is in crisis and only direct action from the government can save it."

One solution, mooted by MPs, would be to give a slice of the BBC licence fee to rival broadcasters to make children's programmes.

John McVay, chief executive of Pact, said there was a real danger that the BBC will soon be the only source of homegrown children's shows.

And the winners are . . .

Animation The Secret Show (CBBC) Break-through talent Charles Martin, director of My Life as a Popat Channel of the year CBeebies Drama That Summer Day (BBC1) Entertainment The Slammer (CBBC) Factual The Wrong Trainers (CBBC) Feature Film Happy Feet (Warner Bros) Independent production company of the year Aardman International SpongeBob Squarepants (Nickelodeon) Interactive The Secret Show, www.thesecretshow.com (CBBC) Pre-school animation Charlie and Lola (CBeebies) Pre-school live action In the Night Garden (CBeebies) Presenter Barney Harwood - Smile (CBBC) Learning Primary Espresso Education: Espresso Primary (Espresso Education) Learning Secondary Recollections - Eyewitnesses Remember The Holocaust (Film Education) Short Form Nick Big Green Thing (Nickelodeon) Video Game Buzz! Junior: Jungle Party (PS2) Writer Bridget Hurst - Charlie and Lola (CBeebies) Bafta kids' vote The Simpsons Movie CBBC me and my movie The Unwelcome Stranger by Rosalind Peters, 14, from Norfolk

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