Adoption of criteria and instructions for better protection of children from inappropriate TV programme content in January 2014
Following the panel discussions organized by UNICEF, RBA and AJS
Three panel discussions entitled "Protection of Children by Rating of TV Content " were organized in December 2013 in the cities of Nis, Novi Sad and Belgrade by the UNICEF office in Serbia and the Association of Journalists of Serbia (AJS). It was concluded that it was necessary to improve the content rating system for protection of children from unsuitable TV programme content and to adopt criteria which would apply to all TV broadcasters.
In the first half of December, editors and journalists from public broadcasting services, local, regional and commercial TV companies with nationwide frequencies, representatives of the Serbian Ministry of Culture and Information, MPs, members of the Committee for Culture and Information of the National Assembly, representatives of journalists’ and media associations, parents' associations and other NGOs, as well as students and university professors were presented with the findings of TV programme content analyses which had been conducted independently by the Republican Broadcasting Agency (RBA) on the one hand, and UNICEF and AJS, on the other. They were also presented with a Proposal of Criteria for Rating TV Content Inappropriate for Children, drawn up by UNICEF and AJS on the basis of the results of both analyses and a review of examples from other countries.
The RBA's report, "Protection of children and young people and rating programme content of national TV broadcasters", covered national TV programmes broadcast during the first four months of 2013, while “TV content rating and child protection – analysis of national broadcasters’ programmes“, compiled by UNICEF and AJS, covered the first half of the year.
"It has turned out that the RBA on the one hand, and UNICEF and AJS on the other, became aware at the same time of the necessity of further developing the rating system for protecting children from programme content that can harm their mental, physical or moral development. Two studies were performed, which resulted in very similar conclusions and concrete and complementary proposals and solutions", said Mario Brudar, deputy head of the RBA's Monitoring and Analysis Section.
Serbia already has a basis for the protecting children from harmful TV programme content: (1) Article 19 of the Broadcasting Act of 2002 is fully devoted to protecting children; (2) in 2007, the Broadcaster Code of Conduct introduced the obligation of TV content rating; and (3) the RBA has issued two important Instructions for Broadcasters - one regarding the broadcast of programme content that may harm children, and the other a Binding Instruction on Reality Programmes.
At the meeting in Belgrade on 17 December, RBA deputy head Goran Karadzic said that the next step of the regulatory authorities would be the adoption in January 2014 of a binding instruction regarding standardization of programme content rating.
"We are indeed aware of the problem that broadcasters are faced with even as we draft this General Binding Instruction which, I believe, will be adopted at the RBA Council session in mid-January 2014. I think that in talks with editors of feature film and serial programmes of national TV stations, we have met with complete understanding and we will, therefore, be able to very easily move things to a higher level than they are now. However, there is still a problem with reality and pseudo-reality shows which are rated in an absolutely inadequate manner. We hope that changes to media legislation will give the regulatory authorities wider power to be able to order a broadcaster to change a rating indicator if we assess some programme as rated inadequately. In this way, on the basis of the binding instruction and these recommendations which we will certainly incorporate, we will practically be in a position to move these programmes to a time of day more suitable for broadcasting them", said Karadzic.
In order to achieve a unified practice for rating foreign and domestically-made films and serials, Ivan Karl, feature film programme editor of SBB cable TV, proposed that a commission be formed - at the Film Centre or the Ministry of Culture and Information or the Republican Broadcasting Agency, or as a result of collaboration of all these bodies - with the task of classifying and rating films and serials, in a way with which all broadcasters would then be obliged to comply.
"That's a huge and laborious job but someone has to do it once - to set up a unique film database at national level which any film programme editor could access via a website, type in the name of a film and check the classification approved by the RBA, the Ministry of Culture and Information or Film Center, and which he would have to respect". RTS (Serbian National TV) film programme editor Nikola Popevic agreed with this proposal.
Karl thought that reality shows are a bigger problem than films, since the viewer approaches a film as a fiction. "The problem lies in the stuff which is presented as reality and that for me is the biggest pollution of airtime. Children don’t know that Family Secrets or Adulterers are fiction. They see people who are talking the local language from the neighbourhood, and, as these are mainly actors who are film extras, the children can’t recognize well-known faces and so can’t believe it’s fiction".
Also raised during the discussions in Nis, Novi Sad and Belgrade, were issues of content rating and times of broadcasting of cartoons and violence in them, as well as of music videos that include violence, nudity or inappropriate language.
It was noted that the introduction of a "protected time" on TV channels and moving the broadcast of inappropriate content to later evening hours would not yield results if this same content, particularly as regards reality shows (with their vulgarity and detailed description of sex acts and violence), remained accessible in print media or continuously available for viewing in their online editions.
The discussion on "protected time" raised a debate on the limits on time duration for broadcasting programmes with different age rating indicators. The RBA's Monitoring and Analysis Section proposed that programmes rated "16" should not be aired between 6 am and 9 pm but, according to the Draft Law on Broadcast Media, this period should last from 6 am to 10 pm.
RBA deputy head Goran Karadzic is of the opinion that this period should run from 8 am to 4 or 5 pm.
“Working hours in Serbia are from 8 am to 4 pm, or 9 am to 5 pm and this is the period which should be most strictly controlled. However, after that time, a regulator cannot impose an extensive ban, since we won’t get anywhere if broadcasters stop buying programmes and good-quality serials such as Forensic Investigators or Grey's Anatomy, because they can’t sell adequate advertising space during reruns. Then we could arive at a situation very much to the detriment of Serbian citizens, whereby we will be sending them off to watch cable TV channels registered in Bulgaria, Hungary, Bosnia, Slovenia or Montenegro where we as regulators can’t have any influence, as we can on TV channels in our own country", said Karadzic and added that due to changing routines and later bedtimes for children today, programme content rated "18" should be aired 1 or 2 hours after midnight.
The representative of the Fund for an Open Society, Dragan Kremen, said it would be necessary to "create a watershed pattern" such as that which has been functioning for decades on the BBC and other broadcasters, and according to which no foul language or inappropriate allusions can be used in TV programmes before 6 pm, an element which can also be taken account of both by programme editors and presenters .
During the panel discussions, it was also pointed out that the Instructions to be adopted in January 2014 would primarily relate to broadcasters but would also act as a guide to parents because, in addition to the numerical rating system, the rating indicator "PAL" (Parental Advisory Label) would be introduced. "A broadcaster, a regulator, the state and society in the broadest sense, can only send a message that certain content is not suitable for a specific age-range, but this cannot actually protect children. That is the responsibility of parents. Recommendations for content rating by age are not intended for children, as when children realize that something is not recommended for them, they very often want to see that forbidden fruit,” it was stated.
The conclusion was that a comprehensive media campaign is needed in which the RBA would take part together with UNICEF and journalists' associations after the adoption of the General Binding Instructions, with the aim at clarifying the criteria to the public at large and primarily to parents.
It was stated that the process of digitalization also represented a challenge as it would enable TV programmes from the past two or three days to be watched on request, and it was therefore necessary to work systematically on media literacy, especially of parents.
The editor of Serbian National TV’s digital and satellite programme, Tatjana Citic, said that digitalization was already a reality, since it was not just a matter of transition to digital transmission of terrestrial broadcasts: "It includes everything that surrounds us - new media, IPTV (internet TV) and digital packages offered by cable providers. I draw attention to this issue so that it can be discussed and regulated now. It is necessary to cover cable and IPTV providers with some binding provisions, as they have in their platforms such programmes as Fox Crime, for example".