I’m a dad. And, as such, have had many worries for my children over the years.
An early one was whether my son would ever learn to walk (closely followed by wondering if the little bugger would ever sit still again). Then came the worry he might never speak (followed by the realisation he would never shut up). As time goes by the concerns have included difficulties at school, trouble with making friends, coping with the death of a loved one and – as they move through teenage years – sex, drugs and God knows what.
Not once in all those years did I worry about them being harmed by viewing the front page of a newspaper. And neither have many parents, I imagine.
Yet, this morning, I reported the news Tesco is altering the ‘news cube’ displays at its Superstore and Extra formats so that, in the case of all newspapers, only the mastheads would be visible to smaller children. And Waitrose is planning a similar move.
The Tesco action is in direct response to demands from campaigners No More Page 3 and Child Eyes, which aims to “protect children from negative, sexual and sexist images”.
Both were understandably delighted. As No More Page 3 put it: “Many of our supporters, especially those who are parents of young children, are understandably unhappy about being confronted with ‘sexy pics’ every time they pop into the supermarket for a pint of milk.”
But, here’s the thing, no-one was “being confronted” with anything.
As a rule, Tesco displays its newspapers pretty close to the foyer - and those Tesco foyers are big. If a parent were really concerned about the harm a picture of Helen Flanagan in her undies would do to their little darlings, it’s not too hard to steer them away. Even at my local Tesco Express, where there is barely room to swing a tabloid, it is quite possible to totally avoid the newspaper shelves. (Tesco is also considering how it might change its newspapers displays in smaller-format stores.)
While I don’t condone the sort of images or captions on some tabloid covers (yes, I’m looking at you Daily Sport, and at you Daily Star), I find it impossible to accept that hiding them from view will do any good. In the age of YouTube, Facebook and SnapChat – services many children shouldn’t have access to, but do - to worry about the harm newspapers’ portrayal of women can do to a child is almost laughably naive.
And the fact the actions of a few titles have prompted such a sweeping response affecting all newspapers from Tesco seems over the top.
If the parties concerned talked less of their worries over sexual images and more about protecting children from disturbing content in general I could better understand the decision - though will have been no less opposed to it. (Like many a child of the 1980s, I grew up reading headlines of impending nuclear doom, and would prefer children not to go through that sort of trauma if it can be avoided.)
But what really gets my goat is that newspapers are being hidden from children’s view when the magazines I see as the real problem on the newsstand – the ‘reality’ titles such as Chat and Pick Me Up – will still be openly sold by Tesco.
Headlines such as ‘My boyfriend raped my girl to spite me – she was just 11 years old’ and ‘Raped on the dining room table – I was just 9 and too scared to scream’ (both from titles on sale this week) are hardly in keeping with today’s statement from Tesco: “We are first and foremost a family retailer and it’s important we do everything we can to promote the right environment in store.”