Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Response from Hamish Mykura (Channel 4)

I am the Channel 4 commissioning editor responsible for "Bringing up Baby" and I have read the posts on this and other threads and have also seen the letters and e-mails sent to Channel 4's Viewer Enquiry unit about the first programme in our four part series. It has clearly caused quite a lot of reaction here and on other forums, and you have raised some very interesting points about the programme and about child rearing more generally. After reading what you have to say, I want to answer some of the specific criticisms of Channel 4 as well as explain why we commissioned the programme in the first place and what sort of advice we and the parents were given during the making of the series.

I was amazed to discover that there are more books sold every day on child care than there are babies born. We seem to have a never ending appetite for advice during this important part of our lives, but it seems that books can only offer advice - what they can't do is show the effect of following that advice in real life. Clearly many people are following the many different theories all over the country, and we thought that a television programme that followed couples choosing to follow three of the better known methods would make fascinating viewing, not least because most of our viewers would have had personal experience of one of these methods during their own childhood! I hope that those of you who have voiced criticism of a particular method on this forum might see the value of showing what it actually involves and allowing other viewers to judge for themselves. We did not intend to promote any particular theory, but hoped this would be an interesting way to stimulate a debate the pros and cons of each method.

Many of you have expressed concern about both the babies and the parents featured in the programme, and especially those following the Truby King method with Clare Verity as their mentor. When we selected couples for the programme, we were very clear that they would be free to decide what childcare method would work best for them and their lifestyle and the programme would observe how they reacted to putting the theory into practise, and what changes they might decide to make as they adapted the methods to suit them and their babies during the period of filming.

Several people have asked what advice we took during the making of the programme - we consulted a GP, a neurologist, and a highly qualified consultant paediatrician, and we showed all four episodes to the consultant paediatrician before completing them and took his advice on several important changes to the editing and voice over to make reference to current medical advice.

Other people have asked about how the various methods compare to current Department of Health guidelines on childcare and wellbeing. The couples we filmed received all the usual advice from their GPs, midwives and healthcare visitors, and were free to adapt the method they chose to take account of the advice from these sources. You will pleased to hear that all six families were happy with the experience they went through, and all of them are sticking with the method they originally chose and any adaptations they have made along the way.

Some of you have raised issues around the longer term effects associated with the different childcare methods on which this series was based. We sought advice from a very highly qualified paediatrician, who saw the programmes and the routines being followed, and who is familiar with all the research on association between longer term health and well being and childcare methods. His advice was that there was nothing in the programmes that would cause any ill effects to the babies, either short or longer term, and he has also provided more detailed advice for the web site supporting the programme (www.channel4.com/bringingupbaby) and can answer any particular questions you might have in the "ask the expert" section of the site.

I apologise for such a long post, but hope that this has answered some of your questions and reassured those of you who were alarmed or upset by what you saw. I hope you will watch the next episode tonight, and I will be visiting this forum again during the week to join in with the debate.

Hamish

1 comment:

Brigid Lowe said...

Mr Mykura says the paediatrician consulted in the making of this programme was 'familiar with all the research on association between longer term health and well being and childcare methods'. That wouldn't be very difficult as there is almost no such research. I wonder whether he might ask this expert to provide references to research which demonstrates that ignoring a child's cries and avoiding eye contact does no long term harm: there is no such evidence, though there is some empirical evidence and much theoretical reason to suspect the contrary.

The problem here is not just with channel four but with a whole society which, because it is overwhelmingly to our convenience to do so, is prepared to suspend all skepticism in listening to 'expert' advice that flies in the face of both common sense and scientific theory in telling us it's OK to treat infants worse than we would dream of treating animals. How could anyone believe an expert who suggested that being left to cry would not cause 'any ill effects to the babies, either short or longer term'? Apart from the lack of evidence on the long term effects, it is clear that there are short-term 'ill effects' - distress and fear! As adults we expect to be allowed off work and given drugs if we feel unhappy, but desperate misery in an infant doesn't count as an 'ill effect'. If we learned that one of our neighbors treated their dog in a way that caused them to make sounds clearly recognizable as sounds of acute distress - left them alone too long, or chained them near exploding fireworks - we would be clear that that was cruelty. "Experts" often talk as though infants were some sort of primitive invertebrate to which we can't extent our common sense notions of distress. This is nonsense: upset for an infant is a real as it is for an adult.