MPs slam BBC over Baby Borrowers

STEPHEN PULLINGER The BBC was branded “out of touch” tonight as it refused to cancel a controversial reality TV show, despite mounting pressure in East Anglia.


The BBC was branded “out of touch” tonight as it refused to cancel a controversial reality TV show, despite mounting pressure in East Anglia.

Eight of Norfolk and Waveney's nine MPs - including former home secretary Charles Clarke - have now turned the screw on the broadcaster by demanding a rethink over the screening of The Baby Borrowers.

Meanwhile the new watchdog for the public servant, the BBC Trust, responded to a challenge to “show its teeth” by saying it was “not its responsibility to get involved”.

The BBC3 show, which is due to be broadcast for the first time on Monday, hands over 25 children from six months to 14 year old to the 24-hour care of inexperienced teenage couples - with some disastrous results.

The children, many of whom are from Norfolk, were looked after at a housing estate on the edge of Norwich after the show's producers got consent from their parents.

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The BBC vowed to go ahead with the show, which it said was “educational” and filmed with “rigorous” health and safety checks throughout.

But north Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has already written to the BBC director-general Mark Thompson demanding the cancellation of a show he said “abuses children in the name of entertainment”. South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon also called for the plug to be pulled.

Six more MPs tonight added their voices to the clamour for action.

Norwich South MP Mr Clarke said: “I've not myself seen this programme but the reports, including in the EDP, about it are very disturbing. I certainly believe the BBC needs to reconsider its decisions.”

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “I think the BBC should cancel the show. They are using children just like props for a show. I will be writing to the director-general about this. I think this is an inappropriate programme and not something I would expect the BBC to be doing.”

Dr Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said: “I think it's a step slightly too far - interesting, but unlikely to succeed. I think the BBC should consider it over the weekend when it has got all the information and reaction from various people.”

Yarmouth MP Tony Wright said: “I have a good deal of concern about passing children around. I would certainly ask the BBC not to air the programme until we have had a chance for a meeting to hear their explanation of why they went down this road, and what evidence they have got from the various children's charities.”

Mid-Norfolk MP Keith Simpson said: “My feeling is that this is not some educational experiment to teach these teenagers about the responsibility of bringing up children.

“It is more like a reality show, a game, and in that case I can't help but think that the kids and the babies are being exploited, and that the whole thing is more about television ratings than anything else.”

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard said: “I think this programme is sick and irresponsible and I certainly won't be watching it. I think it is an abuse of children as well as an abuse of the licence fee.

“If the BBC doesn't cancel it, it will show just how out of touch and unaccountable the BBC is to the licence payers. I'm not going to write to the director-general, because I think he will stand by his staff, but I will write to the new BBC Trust, and we will see what teeth they have got.”

A spokeswoman for the BBC Trust, which the BBC website says works “on behalf of licence fee payers, ensuring the BBC provides high quality output and good value for all UK citizens”, said its members could not comment.

“The trust is the final arbiter for complaints to the BBC. If it was asked to adjudicate on a complaint about a programme it had already passed comment on, it would be compromised.”

t In a previous vote on EDP24, 84pc of people said they would not let their baby appear on a TV reality show. Another 10pc said Yes, for the money, while the remaining 6pc said yes, for fun.

t In a second web poll, where people were asked if the BBC should pull the plug on The Baby Borrowers reality TV show, 71pc said yes and 29pc no, as of 7.30pm tonight.