Children and the media
Advances in communication and the media have turned the
world into a global village - even children and young people in
the poorest and remotest areas are being given opportunities to
find out more about the world around them and explore the information
superhighway, unmediated by adults.
As well as educating and entertaining, mass media promotes
value systems, sees children and young people as 'markets' and causes
friction between children and their parents. Adults are concerned
about the negative effects of media on children - the amount of
time they spend on new forms of media, the cost and safety.
While some adults argue for greater control of the media,
children have demonstrated, through a wealth of projects throughout
the world, that if respected, consulted and engaged in the process,
they can help professionals produce better media, as well as producing
amazing projects themselves.
Children and young people also have a vital contribution
to make to the debate about their participation in the media - as
consumers and contributors to the production process. Young people's
voices are increasingly being solicited through alternative media,
community publications and national broadcasts. One Bangladeshi
programme, Mukto Khobor,
encompasses such a broad range of children in the production team
that is has ensured universal appeal and become a ratings winner.
The mass media is developing strategies to capture young
audiences - particularly through animation, which can travel continents
and create revenue through video, toys and other related products.
Although children own a minute proportion of the world's wealth
they represent an enormous potential market for a variety of products
A question of access
The enormous disparity in access to the media throughout
the world - with most access concentrated in the northern hemisphere,
and particularly the Nordic countries and North America - demonstrates
that the concept of a truly global information village is yet to
Even in parts of the world where more media is available,
access is limited by other factors - economic circumstances and
parental control, for example.
Since much of the mass media is common across national boundaries,
it could be argued that there is now a universal youth culture of
instantly recognizable cartoon characters, music styles and fashion.
However this has also opened the door to the dissolution of cultural
identities and has meant that those who dominate the global market
place also define the terms of this youth culture.
Decoding the messages
Mass communication has spawned vast media empires, which
dominate the global economy and shape the political, cultural and
economic development of nation states. Adults and children alike
may find it difficult to differentiate between fiction and reality
in these circumstances - because of vested business interests and
agendas, and the blurring of lines between journalism and advertising.
The interpretation of the media has therefore become a vital
life skill - teaching adults and children alike how to recognize
the influence of the media and engage with it. Media education in
schools, media awareness projects and opportunities for media production
all contribute to this process. Collaborative projects between children
and media professionals - where children get involved in the production
process and 'learn by doing' - are particularly valuable.
Media for education
Mass media provides the most open system of public education
- allowing the transmission of life-saving advice, for example about
HIV and AIDS, as well as life skills. It reaches into households
and into the public domain, for example through Internet cafes and
town halls. It has also revolutionized classrooms, and in turn has
developed the need to teach new skills to enable children and young
people to use the media. It is also enabling networks to be built
between teachers and students in the resource-rich North and the
resource-poor South, meaning that children all over the world can
Television and the young
While TV has yet to penetrate vast populations of children
and young people, children's TV is big business and a growth industry,
with the world's four biggest TV channels all based in North America,
and all broadcasting throughout the world.
Much TV output for children and young people is now linked
to the retailing of toys, books and other products. American producers
therefore have a huge, captive audience, while local production
of children's programmes has begun to shrink and rely on imports.
The arrival of digital TV has allowed European channels
to reach out to international markets sharing the same languages.
Those engaged in the production of children's programmes
should always examine how the best interests of their viewers can
be addressed in the commissioning, making and marketing of the programme
- seeking opinions of children, particularly in non-domestic countries
where the programmes will reach.
Children in media production
A major impediment to involving children and young people
in media production is that it means bringing them into a potentially
hazardous workplace. What should be a rewarding experience could
be both bewildering and risky.
Planning ahead is the key to safe participation of children
in any workplace, and pointers are given in the full version of
Children and the media
on drawing up guidelines. Often such matters are dealt with on an
ad hoc basis, but by sharing examples of best practice - for example,
those featured in the MAGICmedia
section of this site - industry standards can be established.
Children as story sources
Children are rarely part of the news agenda until something
delightful or terrible happens to them. News is regarded as something
primarily for and about adults, even though children have revealing
insights to offer older people.
Where children are catered for in the media, they tend to
be ghettoized and patronized. Appointing journalists to specialize
in gathering stories and opinions from children about significant
'newsworthy' events is one way that media organizations can begin
to adjust the balance. Developing networks of young reporters is
another. Where children's agencies and media producers do invest
time, energy and training in the next generation of reporters, they
can achieve amazing results - gaining scoops, influencing attitudes
and even governments.
Understanding how young people see the world around them
and transmitting that vision to the public is one of the most challenging
tasks facing journalists, yet they are rarely trained to deal with
When making judgements about how to proceed, the best interests
of the child should be an overriding consideration. Journalists
should aim to minimize harm to the child, both in the circumstances
of the interview and with regard to the likely consequences of what
is published. Some basic questions journalists should ask themselves
when they are interviewing children, along with suggestions of further
reading and weblinks, can be found in the full version of Children
and the media on this site.
Some of the most powerful images of tragedy, conflict and
hope presented by the media have featured children. In the words
of one commentator, they make us ponder how we would have coped
in a similar situation, and make us remember a time when "we expected
better of people like us."
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of images like these
is that the children are identified, they are real people with names
and histories. Yet identifying children even without giving their
name can be fatal - those who abuse children want no witnesses to
their cruelty, particularly when there may be war crimes trials.
There are other issues to be considered too. Photojournalists
have complained about their pictures being used out of context.
Camera crews setting up pictures of bereft children in refugee camps
may be unaware that the children's trauma could, in fact, be the
result of sudden confrontation with foreign journalists. NGOs (non-
governmental organizations) that are quick to complain about the
media's abuse of children's rights may themselves exploit pathetic
images of children to raise funds.
A taste for music
The explosion of music as a cultural focal point for young
people - through audio and videotapes, CDs, live events and especially
now through the Internet, radio and television - has reinforced
the gap between the generations. Adults who worry about sexist and
violent imagery and lyrics in the variety of musical genres are
seen as simply out of touch.
By the early 1990s the US-founded music television channel
MTV had access to over 20 million households in Central and Latin
America, 1.8 million in Asia and 36 million in Europe. It now has
16 national or regional branches around the world, each delivering
a wide variety of programming to increasingly varied young audiences.
While critics find the rampant consumerism of music channels
problematic - proffering the unobtainable to many who are in no
position to afford the goods on display - those who are able to
switch on to MTV are united through a website that gives opportunities
for debate for young people regardless of where they live. The spread
of the MTV and games culture may be bewildering to parents, but
if young people are given opportunities to contribute rather than
just consume, they could have a defining influence on the construction
of the global village that communication technology is making possible.
HIV, AIDS and the media
The particular vulnerability of young people to HIV and
AIDS makes it one of the most important health issues for the media
to tackle. Media programmes can offer an ideal vehicle for bypassing
social taboos which may hinder frank discussion of sexual practices.
The HEART media campaign in Zambia,
for example, is believed to be responsible for the recent reduction
in the HIV rate among the country's young people.
However, insensitive programming can reinforce stereotypes
and provoke fear. It is vital that the efforts of media professionals
are as comprehensive as possible. Questions that media professionals
need to ask themselves can be found in the full version of Children
and the Media on this site.
Child protection on the Internet
At the turn of the new millennium well over 17 million of
the world's children were making use of the Internet. Yet young
people can be exposed to hate messages, sexually explicit material,
graphic violence and predators who roam chat rooms. They are also
vulnerable to exploitative marketing.
Measures are being taken to tackle this. In 1998 the controversial
Online Privacy Protection Act placed various obligations on
websites with content for children, including the adoption of a
aimed at combating illegal and harmful content on global networks.
Internet service providers have introduced filter systems, and increasing
numbers of individuals and organizations are developing activities
designed to protect young people.
To exclude children from the Internet because crimes are
being committed online would be to deprive them of an extraordinary
source of information and self-improvement. Child protection experts
argue that the responsibility lies with parents and carers to protect
their children. The challenge for parents, schools, public authorities,
community groups, Internet service providers, media industries and
regulatory bodies is to ensure that children are properly advised
about the benefits and perils of cyberspace and are equipped with
the skills to safeguard themselves.
Some suggested precautions, as well as examples of good practice
and suggestions of further reading and weblinks, are given in the
full version of Children and
Declaring for children
There is a substantial body of formal declarations and resolutions
referring to the relationship between the media and children (see
the MAGICgovernment section
of this website). None have the force of law, but at the heart of
all of them is an acknowledgement that children deserve good quality
media, and that they have a contribution to make to the media products
directed at them.
Given the near universal ratification of the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the global influence
of the most significant media owners, the least daunting of the
challenges is convincing key players of the value of a 'top-down'
commitment to children in relationship to the media. But there is
also scope for pressure to come from children themselves, from their
advocates and from within the media professions.
While there are a variety of standards set by state and
national media, what is also needed is a global compact between
the media industries and children with a recognition of children's
rights at its heart. By networking across borders and disciplines,
and by seeking to place children on the agenda for all gatherings
at all levels of the media, those sympathetic to promoting the rights
of children within the media could have a significant impact upon
Systems of media regulation vary from country to country,
and operate with varying degrees of success (see MAGICmedia
for examples). Most include special mention of children's vulnerability,
but few take a stand on children's participation in media, and there
has also been concerted pressure from within media industries for
deregulation and increased opportunities for 'the market' to decide
on what is acceptable or not.
If children are to benefit from the opportunities afforded
by the expansion of mass media markets, there needs to be both a
recognition of their rights and a willingness to incorporate them
in the media agenda. Ideally this should come from commitment and
conviction within the media, rather than compulsion from outside.
Since there are no international regulatory frameworks to
which all media give credence, seeking an acknowledgement by the
media industries that they have a role to play in assisting States
Parties to comply with their obligations under the terms of the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
may require organized lobbying and future monitoring.
Prizes for child-friendly media can stimulate innovation
and the pursuit of excellence, provide a focus for children and
young people, and help to spotlight best practice and share it with
others. Within the media, industries awards are also an important
feature of marketing, generating public interest and sales.
Including certain criteria in awards - for example, the
need to engage young people at each stage of the production process
- or consulting children in the planning and adjudication of award
schemes, can ensure that participation of children and young people
Partnerships with media producers can bring opportunities
to share best practice across borders and develop award schemes
that can operate at a national, regional and international level.
Examples of good practice, and suggestions for further web research,
are given on the full version of Children
and the media.
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