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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 by adults.

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 of minorities.

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.

Best practice

• 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.

• The MAGICbank 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 China.


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