Coronation Street to tackle Net pedo issue
British soap will highlight 'grooming' problem
The number one UK soap Coronation Street is to feature a storyline in which the issue of paedophiles "grooming" kids over the Net will be played out by main character Sarah Louise Platt.
Sarah Platt - played by actress Tina O'Brien - is 15 years old and is one of the soap's most popular characters. Sarah had a baby aged just 13, and so enjoys a very limited social life due to having to balance looking after her child with school.
In the upcoming storyline, Tina will turn to the Internet in her bedroom as a way of meeting people. While visiting chatrooms, she is befriended by a 16-year-old boy who shares her interests and sends her a photo of himself. It turns out however that it is a man posing as a 16-year-old, and when he persuades Sarah to meet him face-to-face, she finds herself in a very dangerous situation.
The soap is steering carefully around the issue by making the online chats between two people of consenting age - Sarah, although she is actually 15, claims she is 16 while chatting online.
Under proposed Home Office legislation, an adult posing as a teenager will be subject to a banning order and then to a jail sentence of up to five years if this order is broken.
A spokeswoman for the production company Granada confirmed the writers would be talking to the Home Office regarding the story, which is expected to peak in June/July. "We have been in touch with the Home Office," she told us. "But it is very difficult at the moment with the election on and the government in purdah. We hope to work with it afterwards though."
As for the reason behind the plot, the spokewoman told us they hoped to highlight the issue of Internet crime, given recent publicity by the Tonight with Trevor MacDonald show and TV presenter Carol Vordermann.
The show should also prove a far more effective measure in tackling concern over Internet chatrooms than either the melodramatic outpourings of celebrities or the authoritarian and legislative approach of the government.
"Sarah is hugely popular and a great role model for teenagers," the spokeswoman told us. "No matter how many politicians talk about the problem, they will never beat a peer in getting the message across. Plus, we know that many parents and kids watch the show side by side. Hopefully, we will spark some debate and then we would have done a good public service."
It's hard to argue with that logic. However, while the show should do more to make kids aware of the potential dangers of chatrooms, we remain concerned that it could also be used to kick up a storm that will see unnecessary and draconian legislation pushed through on a wave of public worry. ®