Children and the media
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Increasingly children have come to rely upon mass
communication - the use of words, sounds and images by a few to
inform, educate, entertain and persuade the many - to learn about
the world they inhabit. Even the poorest, most remote communities
can now be touched by radio and the printed word. With the advancement
of telephony, satellite and cable technology, along with opportunities
for travel, the world is being turned into a global village. Mass
media's potential to inform, educate, nurture, entertain and encourage
children and young people is enhanced by its diversity - television,
radio, film, advertising, the Internet, print products, music, telephony,
theatre and so on.
'Texting' has become the communication system of
choice among young people the world over, because it is cheap, quick
and private. It has created truncated language systems, brought
thousands on to the streets during the 'second revolution' in the
Philippines, facilitated impromptu 'rave' parties all over the United
Kingdom and galvanized anti-capitalist protestors to demonstrate
whenever and wherever world leaders gather.
The Internet, developed to serve military, industrial
and academic purposes, has become the latest adventure playground
for children and young people with access to the technology - offering
them opportunities to explore the information superhighways, unmediated
Yet despite these developments, when former UNICEF
Executive Director Carol Bellamy conducted an Internet chat with
some 70 young media activists from 17 countries at the start of
the new millennium, the unanimous message she received was that
the media is not responding to the needs of the young.
Mass media not only supplies factual information,
it also expresses cultural preferences, promotes value systems and
fuels commerce through advertising and product placement. It can
be a unifying force and a celebration of diversity as well as a
propaganda machine causing division. It has the capacity to exploit,
abuse, misinform, exclude and corrupt children through on-screen
violence, pornography, lack of access, misrepresentation and marginalization
Adults in richer countries fret about the amount
of time their children devote to media products, bemoan the costs
of meeting the demands of a more technologically sophisticated generation,
and worry about the peer-group pressure that has made mobile phones
and computer games status symbols in the playground.
While some adults argue for greater control of
the media, children and young people have demonstrated that, if
respected, consulted and engaged, they can help professionals produce
better media as well as producing amazing projects themselves. Children
have a vital contribution to make to the debate - as consumers of
media and as contributors to the production process - and young
people's viewpoints are being increasingly solicited, through alternative
media, community publications and national broadcasters.
In Haiti, Our
Own Voice, a PLAN International initiative, helps young people
produce their own radio programmes which are broadcast locally.
This material is then transcribed, and distributed to national media,
as a means of encouraging them to include children's issues and
perspectives in their programming. The material is also available
on the website and to other countries.
In Bangladesh, a child-friendly selection
process for participation in a youth television programme, Mukto
Khobor, ensures that all sectors of society are considered.
Not only are schools contacted to supply candidates, but also organizations
that may be working with children who have no access to education.
The production team is a mixture of privileged children, working
children and some who may not have even basic literacy skills. The
programme is an accurate reflection of Bangladeshi society and as
such appeals to multiple audiences, making it a ratings success.
The US-based Center
for Media Literacy has produced an interactive CD-ROM programme,
Between the Lines, that allows young people to experience
the decisions faced by media producers, with guidance on how to
edit TV news and design a public service announcement.
In recognition of the fact that more and
more young people are making their own films, MediaRights,
a not-for-profit organization concerned about the limited representation
of young people in popular media, offers distribution and exhibition
venues for youth-produced media. It provides online workshops to
help young people involved in media activities to make videos, find
each other and share their experiences.
on this site provides many more examples of good practice.
Children and young people themselves are making
the most of opportunities to get their voices heard and communicate
with other children - and adults - across the world. Children from
the northern and southern hemispheres are contacting each other
through school-based links on the Internet; young people in rural
Tanzania are learning about the lives of people in other parts of
the world by visiting video cabins in local markets; street children
in India are making radio programmes about their lives; urban youngsters
in Brazil are using the airwaves to find out more about their counterparts
in the Amazon rainforest; Inuit children in Labrador, Canada, are
telling their stories to the rest of the country in the same way;
while children in the Pacific Rim have used the media to alert the
world to their abuse by tourists. In the aftermath of 11 September
2001, young people from Pakistan and Afghanistan joined forces with
children from western countries to develop programmes on the theme
of 'tolerance and understanding among peoples'.
Meanwhile the mass media industry is developing
strategies to capture young audiences through children's programming
with a particular emphasis upon animation. According to Screen
Digest, "Animation is an attractive investment because of its
longevity, its ability to travel, and the potential to create revenue
from home video, publishing, toys and other licensing activities."
In the Asian subcontinent, where children's programming
comprises less than 5 per cent of broadcast output, nearly 50 per
cent of it is of foreign origin and most of that is animation. Foreign-produced
animation also dominates the output of children's programming in
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