Children, the UN Convention and the Media

The Media as Monitors of the Rights of the Child
Reporting on Children with Respect
Participation of Children in the Media
Protection against Harmful Influences
Conclusions

The following paper is by Thomas Hammarberg, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Ambassador Hammarberg is responsible for monitoring the compliance of the signatory nations to the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a journalist himself, he has a special interest in media rights. He prepared this paper for a general discussion on the subject held in October 1996 in Geneva.


On the eve of this decade the UN General Assembly adopted the text of a new human rights treaty: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This agreement - defining how children should and should not be treated - has since had a remarkable response. At the end of 1996 no fewer than 187 countries had pledged to enforce its principles and standards and to respect its reporting procedure. A monitoring committee is elected and has so far received more than 90 country reports.
This development in itself should be of some interest to the media. It affects controversial issues like child labour, child prostitution, female circumcision, the treatment of refugee children and abuses of children during war. Indeed, there is also good news: the convention itself has already proven to be an instrument for positive change.
The convention is formally addressed to governments and does not interfere with independence of the media. Still, it brings an indirect message to media institutions which goes deeper than suggesting that its existence and impact be mentioned. As with human rights in general, the press and other media have essential f-unctions in promoting and protecting rights of the individual:
1)To Monitor Abuses - and Progress.  
It is hoped that violations of children's rights be reported in the media. Such scrutiny would probably be more effective than the international procedure prescribed by the convention which requires the government itself to report to the monitoring committee on steps for implementation. However, the media could also draw from the official documentation in their reporting. The convention could be seen as the yardstick against which reality could be measured.
2)To Respect the Integrity of the Child.  
One of the important aspects of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is that it presents a truly modern attitude towards children themselves. It recognizes the vulnerability of children in certain circumstances but also their capacity and strength for development. A major emphasis in the convention is that each child is unique. All this can be undermined through negative stereotyping. Likewise, the media should be careful not to violate the integrity of individual children in their reporting on, for instance, crime and sexual abuse. The convention specifically protects the individual child from violations of his or her privacy, honour and reputation.
3)To Allow Children to Participate in the Media.
One
 of the principles of the convention is that the views of children be heard and given due respect. This is also reflected in articles about freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion. It is in the spirit of these provisions that children should not only be able to consume information material but also to participate themselves 'm the media. The idea is that children, in fact, should be able to express themselves and that their views be sought.
4)To Protect Children against Harmful Influences through the Media.  
While the convention requests access for children to the media, it also reflects concern about the risk of children being harmed by some reports and information material. The idea is that the integrity of the child should be respected in the reporting. Another article says that the state should encourage guidelines to protect children at large from injurious media output, for instance certain violent and pornographic materials.

The Media as Monitors of the Rights of the Child


There has been very little publicity about the work of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body which monitors the implementation of the UN Convention. Almost all of the country discussions have passed unnoticed. The clearest exception was the observations made by the committee on the United Kingdom; they hit the first page in the national press. This is not unique for the Geneva-based discussions in the international treaty bodies on human rights. The working styles of these committees are not at all media oriented and the UN Human Rights Centre is inept in its media relations. At the same time the foreign press corps is generally negative, perhaps frustrated by all attempts to use them as megaphones. Moreover, it is dear that Geneva is not a major priority when media organizations assign correspondents. A change can probably only come through another approach by the UN system itself; some lessons could perhaps be learnt from the more professional style of UNICEF. However, it is even more important that the media cover child rights issues at the national scene. There are still countries where the convention almost never is mentioned in the media, even when such reference would be highly relevant. Countries with active non-governmental child rights groups and/or children's ombudsmen tend on the other hand to have a considerable amount of rights-oriented reporting on children - whatever is the cause and effect. Even in such countries, however, the quality of media reports on children is sometimes wanting. One problem is that the convention is used in an ignorant manner. Not seldom are its provisions overstated, for instance when it is implied that the convention gives all asylum-seekers who are children the right to stay. Another phenomena - typical also for some reports by UNICEF or Save the Children is that the political problems behind are not touched. The reporting tends to be limited to long lists of sufferings, which in isolation give little understanding of -the root causes. Children's rights is to a large a political matter and ought to be covered as such. In some countries the media may avoid this political dimension for reasons of pure self-defense. However, that is probably not the explanation in general. A tradition has developed - partly spurred by the fund-raising organizations - in which problems relating to children are seen as sentimental rather than political. This is a challenge for institutions and individuals working for the rights of the child. Hopefully, media organizations will one day educate their staff on the idea of the rights of the child, including on the implication of the UN Convention. Another wish is that they develop a systematic cover age on the status of children in the community. They should not be content with child-related reports only on pages or in programmes for children, but treat them as elements in the overall political reporting. Such coverage deserves priority, also through the appointment of competent reporters for that task.

Contents:

The Media as Monitors of the Rights of the Child
Reporting on Children with Respect
Participation of Children in the Media
Protection against Harmful Influences
Conclusions

Reporting on Children with Respect


The press and other media do always express directly or indirectly - a position towards children and their rights. Their attitude is, in fact, reflected precisely in the way they describe children and monitor their rights, the extent to which - and how they let children have a voice and the steps they take to avoid to abuse children they themselves. The performance of the media on these aspects also portray an image of the child in general which in turn affects people's opinions and thereby political decision making.

How Is the Child Portrayed?

There are few international com parative studies on the media image of children. Discussions on this problem have primarily been held on the national level. Still, it seems possible to define certain broader trends at least in order to specify topics for future research. There is of course a difference between types of media. Within the press, the tabloids are distinct from other newspapers and there are differences between various kinds of magazines and periodicals; among them there are those which address parents of children or are aimed at children themselves. One clear impression when analyzing the media in general, and the daily newspapers in particular, is that children are described from a distance.  This seems to be a pattern in a number of countries, also outside the industrialized north. When children are the focus, they come across as objects and somehow unreal. They appear to be weak - at least before their teens - and not in any sense strong and capable.
The tabloid papers in a number of countries tend to publish quite a lot about child-related problems, often in intervals. For instance, during a two-week period in August 1995, Aftonbladet and Expressen, the  two mass circulation tabloids in Stockholm, had child-related reports repeatedly as top stories on the first page. The stories were about a baby bitten by a rat; a six-year old killed by a dog; an eight-year old being kidnapped; three children ill- treated by a father who was a religious fanatic and about how former Prime Minister Carl Bildt longed for his children when he traveled.'
This is of course a tabloid picture of the world, deliberately focusing on the absurd, emotional or otherwise exceptional news. Still, the image of the child which emerges from these reports is typical for many other media organs in one respect: the child featured as a victim.
 This stereotype of the child as innocent, vulnerable and constantly threatened by a dangerous environment is a cultural phenomena; the media both reflects and perpetuates it ' This very image has not been missed on the advertising companies - the cuteness of innocence could be an effective marketing argument.

The "African Child"

The child-victim image is even more pronounced in foreign reporting, The "Biafran babies" in the late sixties have been followed by shocking pictures of starving children in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Sudan and Zaire. As famines and other disasters dominated reports from Africa for long periods - between periods of silence - the image of the African child became thoroughly distorted. The healthy, playful and active majority of individual African boys and girls were almost never presented. This, of course, was criticized not least by many African commentators and improvements have indeed been made. The wide international interest in post-apartheid South Africa has contributed to a more multi-dimensional reporting on Africa in general.
However, the stereotype of the child-victim abroad is still alive in industrialized countries. Fund-raising charity organizations have exploited and reinforced this image in their ads. Naturally, they stress the need and the misery to mobilize support. However, the interplay between them and the media - some newspapers nowadays do their own fund raising has an unfortunate side-effect: the image that children "down there" are lost if "we" do not save them. Their survival depends on our airlifts, our convoys of food, medicine and blankets. Local efforts are of little significance.
The purpose is understandable: to raise more funds. In fact, the description of the dependency may even be correct in some instances. Yet, the cumulative effect of such repeated reports gives a distorted world view.

During the years I worked for one of these humanitarian organizations - Swedish Save the Children (Radda Barnen) - I was often struck by two reactions from the broader public, both of them obviously influenced by such repeated messages. One was an exaggerated perception of the scale of the misery and the notion that "it only gets worse.' The other one was that it was a duty to give  even if there was no hope.
The remarkable progress made globally in the combat against child mortality seemed not to be known, neither did the advances in primary schooling. This ignorance is the more striking as the problems as such have got wide publicity in the first place, especially during emergencies. The media have reason to be self-critical on this point and the humanitarian agencies, on their side, ought to consider whether it will be wise in the long run to build fund raising only on guilt feelings.

The Nasty Youth
 It is not as easy to describe older children, in particular teenagers, as innocent. Though they, as well, tend to be distant and unreal in the media, their portrayal is dearly much more mixed than the one of the little victim-child.
Problems among youth are not seldom reported with an undercurrent of confusion or even disappointment - as if they primarily pointed at failures of the parent generation. The German magazine Der Spiegel,  for instance, carried a cover feature in 1995 about teenage suicides, young people who wanted to die. Though serious in approach, the report in fact made the young ones inexplicable; the mystery of their reactions seemed to be the heart of the story.
The terrible James Bulger case in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago, when two 10-year-old boys brutally murdered a toddler, lead to an understandable outbreak of strong emotions in the media and outside. Some of the reaction, however, was channeled in pure hatred against the 10-year-olds, the atmosphere was dose to lynching. Very little attention was given to the fundamental question of what had made the boys so distorted that they could commit that outrageous act: from what homes did they come?
It seemed that the two child-murderers got more hostile publicity than adults would have got for the same crime. This probably influenced the punishments which became very harsh. Also in the United States, where a child is killed by gunshot every two hours, the Bulger case was a first page story day after day. A picture from a security camera was published showing the two boys walking away with the little child; that very image appeared as a symbol of smashed illusions.
The child as perpetrator  probably causes more vibrations because of the widespread child-victim image; the contrast between the two is upsetting. Child criminality therefore tends to be an emotional issue and newsworthy, for instance, gang assaults against other minors.
The more important that the media handle such problems with some care. Sadly, however, there have been extreme cases where media representatives have taken the lead in hate campaigns against groups of children, almost always poor and abandoned minors in the margin of the society. Media -with an unfortunate term usually label them all as ",'street children." There was, some years ago, a radio station in Sao Paulo which incited policemen and others to "cleanse" the streets from these children, in other words: to kill them.

Children in Crisis

The coverage of the stone-throwing boys in the West Bank and Gaza during the intifada  uprising, which started in late 1987, raised other problems. It was, at best, confused; the boys were sometimes portrayed as heroes, sometimes as untamed trouble-makers. Again, the contrast to the innocent-child image was stirring. The fact that the Palestinian boys - sometimes also girls - on occasion confronted very young Israeli soldiers and that both parties tried to manipulate the international media, complicated reporting even more.
The theme of boy soldiers was taken up in July 1995 by Newsweek with the first page heading: "Boy Soldiers: A New and Ruthless Breed of Warrior." The 10-page story gave available facts about the recruitment of young boys to armies and militias in a number of recent conflicts. The salt of the story, and perhaps the reason why it was featured, was the fact that boy soldiers sometimes had been exceptionally cruel. To the credit of Newsweek,  there was an attempt to put also that finding into a wider context thereby explaining how the boys could be both perpetrators and victims at the same time.-'

During the genocidal massacres in Rwanda last year, when more than five hundred thousand children, women and men were brutally butchered, there were also children among the killers; in some cases they were very young. They were discovered by foreign journalists in prison afterwards. How should these boys and their participation be described? Silence is of course not the answer, neither are sensational reports dehumanizing and demonizing them. Well-researched backgrounds are needed in order to explain what really happened; and for such reporting the voice of the child himself is important.
Some reports on child prostitution have reflected similar dilemmas. It is not easy to see the real child in that vulgar environment in which girls and also boys sometimes are seen to be active. The heavily made-up car-girl in the brothel is a far cry from our image of the innocent child, even when we are told about how she was forced into the humiliation.
The tendency of the media to go for the exceptional stories can give the impression of the outside world as a theatre of absurdities. The actors on that scene become distant and unreal, perhaps even threatening. Today's news reports cry out for supplementary journalism giving backgrounds and contextual information, even analysis.

Respecting the Integrity of the Child
 There are of course other types of stereotyping around children in the media apart from those mentioned here; one indeed relates to gender bias. They all tend to distort reality and dehumanize the individual child.
Perhaps this is why it has been possible for some papers and radio-TV programmes to violate the integrity of a child. The right not to have one's name mentioned in connection with reports on crime or sexual abuse is not always respected. Too seldom is the identity of a child covered on photos from such situations, even when the adults are given that privilege.
This is in contradiction with the spirit of Article 16 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
k1.kNo child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family,
khome, or correspondence, nor to lawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
k2.kThe child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

kContents:

kThe Media as Monitors of the Rights of the Child
kReporting on Children with Respect
kParticipation of Children in the Media
kProtection against Harmful Influences
kConclusions

kParticipation of Children in the Media

k
kChildren are sometimes given a voice in the media when, for instance, school problems are covered. But most other issues seem to be reserved for adults. Even when news reporters talk with ordinary people in the street about current events, they seldom turn to children. From a journalistic point of view this appears to be a missed opportunity; children do belong to society and their views are relevant.
kThough governments cannot orchestrate media on such aspects, they have in fact - after the ratification of the UN Convention - some responsibility in this area. The first paragraph of Article 12 reads:
kStates Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express
kthose views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance
kwith the age and maturity of the child.
kThis very article has been defined by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as one of the principles  of the convention. However, there are some other articles which also underpin this dimension of the convention. One is
Article 13, the first part of which says:
kThe child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice. Key provisions in relation to media are outlined in Article 17, which starts as follows:

kStates Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:

k(a)kEncourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of Article 29;

k(b)kEncourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;

k(c)kEncourage the production and dissemination of children's books;

k(d)kEncourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;

kThere are two major tendencies in these articles. One is about freedom of expression and access to the media,  the other one is treating the media as an educational tool.  Though dearly distinct, the two aspects inter-relate.

kImplementation of the Right to Access to the Media

kEven if the media are largely run privately in a country, the authorities could undertake some supportive measures, for instance through financial incentives, in order to guarantee a supply of children's literature and rogrammes. This may especially be the case for the production and dissemination of information material in minority languages.
kHowever, the country reports so far received by the monitoring UN Committee on the Rights of the Child show a mixed picture of implementation. Several reports in fact mention nothing or almost nothing about any of the aspects of Article 17, including about access to the media. So was the case with reports from, for instance, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Jamaica, Argentina and Paraguay. Cyprus and Chile only made brief references to their constitutions. The impression left is that there is no deliberate policy or government plan in relation to children and the media.
kOther reports have been more precise. Many of them are detailed on measures taken to encourage dissemination of child-oriented materials through the press, radio and television, video recordings and 'books. On this point there are, not surprisingly, differences between the countries based on available resources.
kThe report from Nepal states:
kIn the rural areas, children do not have access to the above resources (child literature and broadcasts) due to transportation and communication problems... There is also little diversity in the materials available for children, whether they be on TV, radio or in newspapers. The ability to gain something from the media is largely determined by the educational status and literacy levels of children.

The reports from Yemen and Honduras flag similar constraints and such concerns are also voiced by some of the countries in transition. In Mongolia the production of child literature has declined sharply due to financial problems.

Russia is another example:
kTextbook publishing is ... facing an acute financial crisis. Production costs have recently increased on average by a factor of 10, making textbooks significantly less affordable. ... The acute shortage of children's literature reduces children's interest in learning their native tongues ...

Vietnam:

kShortages of funds have prevented satisfactory expansion in the diversity of children's material available to them in the mass media. The number of children's television programmes broadcast has fallen over the last two years, and a large number of local libraries have had to dose, unable to pay for new books and periodicals.

kBoth Russia and Vietnam made clear that they could not meet the standards of providing literature in minority languages due to these economic problems. Spain, on the other hand, presented an impressive list of data banks made available for young people.
kTwo tendencies emerge from the country reports: 1) that fairly little is done to make it possible for children to participate  actively in the media and 2) that economic restraints in a number of countries also hinder children from media consumption.
kOn participation  the media have themselves in some states initiated a co-operation with schools in order to develop a dialogue with children. One such global project, "Newspaper in Education," was launched in 1995 by the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ) with the support of UNESCO and UNICEF.

kAnother approach is to give children and youth more access to the production of information and media material. The few experiments made in that direction have been encouraging; positive models of child television have been established, for instance, in Guatemala and El Salvador.
k-On access to media and child literature there seems to be a broad awareness of its importance, though minority children are in some cases not given sufficient priority. This also goes for deaf and blind children who need to be ensured information material in appropriate forms and translations.
kThis particular area seems to be an important one for international co-operation - in the form of economic assistance but also exchange of ideas and experiences. The latter is especially important in view of the great gap in the quality of information material between poor countries and those with higher technological standard.

Implementation of "Positive Alternatives"
 The emphasis in Article 17 on information "of social and cultural benefit to the child" relates both to the general ambition to allow children to be educated about positive values like tolerance and gender equity (these values are elaborated in Art. 29 of the convention) and to the need to counter the negative influences of some aspects of media supply.
kComparatively little has been mentioned in the country reports on this provision. In the Philippines a private group, the Philippine Board of Books for Young People, is "propagating love of reading books" among children in activities similar to the remarkable reading campaign organized by the Tamer Institute in the West Bank and Gaza.
kIn Mexico the General Law on Radio and Television stipulates that programmes for children should stimulate creativity, family integration and human solidarity. Further, they should promote understanding of national values and knowledge of the international community.
kSimilar legislation is in place in several European countries. In Sweden the Broadcasting Act instructs the programme companies to assert basic ideas of democracy, universal human equality, liberty and dignity of the individual.
kkThe effectiveness of this general approach can, however, be questioned. In fact, it seems that the liberal societies have had difficulties to find means of asserting these good values without falling into the trap of formulating state opinions on ideological and political matters. More authoritarian states do not have that problem, though their rhetoric - even when expressing positive values - are not always taken seriously.

Contents:

kThe Media as Monitors of the Rights of the Child
kReporting on Children with Respect
kParticipation of Children in the Media
kProtection against Harmful Influences
kConclusions

Protection against Harmful Influences

k
Only one or two generations ago, very few children had ever seen images of someone being shot, knifed, blown up or raped in front of their bare eyes. Today most children see such violence on the screen every day, often in gruesome detail. It has been estimated that an average American child now reaching the age of 18 has witnessed some 18,000 simulated murders on television.

kThe impact of this mass consumption of violent images is still a matter of controversy. There have been individual cases of violent crime apparently inspired by particular films. However, no consensus has been established as to the broader and more precise influence of media violence on child viewers; research findings so far have been contradictory.
kThis should come as no surprise. Research on this topic is genuinely complicated. It has to incorporate broader social and cultural factors, including the role of parents or other guardians. The response to the media violence in the community at large also affects the child. The existence of alternative activities and their character is another important aspect. Needless to say, further research is called for on these topics, including on the indirect and long- range impact on a generation growing up in a society affected by this type of ever present media culture. Studies of this kind are the more important as, no doubt, there are powerful economic interests at play in this discussion.
kArticle 17 of the convention does not only request child access to the media and the use of the media for value education, it also has a clause about the protection of children against harmful influences. The last part of the article reads:
k(e)kEncourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of Articles 13 and 18.
kThis aspect was originally at the core of what in the end became Article 17. The first proposed wording in a Polish draft read:

kParents, guardians, state organs and social', organizations shall protect the child against any harmful influence that the mass media, and in particular the radio, film, television, printed materials and exhibitions, on account of their contents, may exert on his mental and moral development.

kThe differences between this first proposal and the text of Article 17 in its totality do indeed reflect the ideological discussions during the drafting. The Polish wording was seen by several government delegations as too negative towards the media in general; some of them seemed to smell an attitude of censorship. "Western" delegates, in particular, argued for formulation s ensuring a free flow of information and that children should be able to take advantage of the diversity of facts and opinions in the media. They also wanted an implicit acknowledgment of the fact that some media were run privately, rather than by the state. In that spirit, the protection should be achieved through the encouragement of appropriate guidelines for media conduct.
kIt is not clear from the wording whose responsibility it is to develop guidelines, only that the state should be encouraging. However, one possibility is that the producers themselves or bodies representing them develop such standards. Another option would be that independent, special structures were created for this purpose. As on several other points, the vagueness of the convention in this -regard can be seen as an invitation to a discussion on objectives  rather than offering a prescription of precise methods of implementation.
kThe very nature of the guidelines is also unclear, except for their purpose to protect children. Some indications are given through the references made at the end of the article to other parts of the convention. One of them (Art. 13) - quoted above - defines the freedom of the child to seek, receive and impart information. Restrictions, if necessary, should be defined by law and only be justified by the respect of the rights or reputations of others or for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals." The implication seems to be that such restrictions could be included in the "appropriate guidelines." However, their dearly limited nature seems to indicate that, in general, other means than censorship should be tested.
kThe other reference. (Art. 18) is about the role of the parents or the legal guardians. They have "'the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child." The state shall assist them in their child-rearing responsibilities. This wording is a reflection of the overall attitude in the convention on the triangular relationship between the child, the guardians and the state: the parents or other guardians are of key importance to child, the state should support them and only in exceptional cases - in the best interests of the child - take positions on how individual children should be reared.
kIn this context the implication is that the guardians have a direct responsibility in protecting the child against harmful media influences and should be supported in this task. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly expressed concern about the possible negative impact of media violence. To encourage meaningful "appropriate guidelines" the authorities need to develop a body of knowledge on patterns of viewing, listening and reading; on what is transmitted; on possible impact on various receivers, in various situations and of various materials; on means of effectively restricting injurious transmissions. In other words: the committee recommends a comprehensive policy as a basis for the development of guidelines.

Implementation of the Protection Clause
 The state reports submitted so far reflect a stark divide between the industrialized liberal countries and other states on the degree of awareness and on measures taken in relation to harmful impact of media violence. The impression given is that several governments in the South had not had reasons to tackle this problem yet - or had little capacity for it. Vietnam is one of the countries which seem to consider an action for control:
kAnother worrying tendency is the increasingly common appearance in the press of items dealing with sex and violence, the justification for this being apparently that items of this sort attract more readers, an important consideration in the market-oriented economic conditions of Viet Nam. These items are not suitable for children, but their appearance and children's access to them are difficult to control.
kSeveral countries mention that they have a system of censorship to "protect the child's development and psychological balance" (Burkina Faso) or to ensure that information material "are not harmful to them" (Senegal). The more concrete operations of these systems - and their effectiveness - are not explained in any detail. The reports submitted from the countries in eastern and central Europe also indicate that a more comprehensive policy in this field is lacking.
kThe reports from Canada and western European countries are, however, detailed and seem to be based on thorough national discussions over some years. Several approaches are tried simultaneously. All of these countries seem to have legislation against certain serious abuses; one example is the report from Germany where "certain representations of violence ... and pornographic materials" are prohibited in the criminal law.
kAdvertising is restricted. In Spain, for instance, the General Act on Advertising bans publicity which is detrimental to values and rights laid down in the constitution. Special rules regulate marketing of certain products (e.g. tobacco and beverages) or activities (e.g. betting and games of chance) in order to protect children.

kAnother common approach is to regulate the timing for the broadcasting of ads and other material. The idea is that programmes which could be harmful for children be broadcast late in the evenings (when children are supposed to be in bed). This could be stipulated through law, special instructions or voluntary agreements by the media themselves.
kIn France an independent authority, the Audiovisual Media Board, has been set up to ensure the protection of children in the planning of broadcasts. It has issued guidelines for the television channels and initiated proceedings against violations of them. In the United Kingdom the BBC, the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority have all established guidelines for the protection of children against material which could harm their mental, moral or physical development:
kGuidelines on children's programmes cover the areas of violence, language and general taste and decency. These guidelines take into account the context of the action and the danger of imitative behaviour by children. In the area of news and factual programmes there is a particular awareness of a child's vulnerability and suggestibility. Broadcasters must also be aware of the dangers to children of programmes which include psychic or occult practices, smoking, drinking alcohol and drug taking.
kFurthermore, there is in Britain a special council established in accordance with the 1990 Broadcasting Act which in its Code of Practice emphasizes the protection of children against unsuitable material on television.
kThe Canadian report says that considerable progress has been made in addressing the problem of violence in the media. This after a 14-year-old girl - whose sister had been robbed, raped and brutally killed - had organized a successful petition campaign for legislation eliminating violence on television:
kIn 1993, the Action Group on Violence in Television, which includes broadcasters, cable distributors, pay television and specialty programming services, advertisers and producers, announced a General Statement of Principles to be adhered to by all industry sectors as they strengthen their codes on television violence. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters was the first to have their revised code accepted by the Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission.
kIn countries where there is one strong national broadcasting corporation it may be easier to establish a link between political intention and actual programme policy. The YLE Broadcasting Company in Finland is one example; it has a deliberate policy of avoiding certain violent programmes, gives dear warnings in advance of broadcasting some material and also conducts research studies about their impact.
kSeveral reports refer to the system of age classification for the cinema. One example is Denmark:
kAll films to be shown in public are - under the Act of Censorship of Films - to be reviewed and evaluated in relation to an audience of children and young persons. At the moment there are two age limits as to prohibition, i.e. 12 years and 16 years, and in addition to this an age limit of 7 years is intended as a guide.
kIn some countries these limits also depend on whether the child goes with an adult or is unaccompanied. A particular problem has been how to cope with the expanding film market. This is illustrated through another quote from the Danish report:
kA revision of the censorship of films is being considered, one of the reasons being the ever-increasing supply of films on TV and the video market which are not covered by the Act on Censorship in force.
kIn Finland commercial videos are subject to the same censorship procedures as cinema films. In France the approach is similar:
k... video cassettes offered for rental or sale must indicate on their packaging any prohibitions linked to the issue of the certificate of release for the work.
kVoluntary guidelines for the press do exist in several countries; in several cases their implementation is monitored by a Press Council which is set up, wholly or partly, by the press institutions themselves. These, however, tend to focus more on the protection of children being reported upon, than on problems related to the publishing of material harmful to young readers.
kThe most comprehensive overall approach seems to have been taken by Norway - after the submission of their report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In March 1995 the government issued a national plan of action against violence in the visual media. This was a joint initiative by the ministries of culture and justice - with the co-operation of two other ministries: the Ministry for Child and Family Affairs and the Ministry for Church Affairs, Education and Research. The plan says that even if only a small minority of young people are influenced by violent media consumption the consequences could still be serious. It also concludes that social and cultural poverty increases the risks and it emphasizes the preventive efforts, not least within the school.
kThe Norwegian plan proposes some legal precisions to include also, for instance, video games. Its emphasis though is on assisting children and parents to make informed choices. The plan seeks to mobilize viewers and consumers to use their power and express opinions about the supply. Another ambition with the plan is that those who transmit extreme violence on the screen be held responsible. Another major aspect, again, is that networks and alliances be built to develop knowledge and reactions against media violence.
kA special secretariat has been established to monitor the implementation of the Norwegian plan; a coordinating committee between the ministries has also been set up as well as an advisory council of experts. There will be annual reports to the parliament.
kThe Norwegian approach seems to be unusually thorough and conscientious. However, the impression of the country reports from the industrialized countries, in general, is one of awareness and deep concern. The guidelines for television, including on broadcasting hours, which exist in a number of countries, may not always be respected and, moreover, seem not to stem the high volume  of violence hour after hour. A particular problem is the news reporting  which sometimes is illustrated with violent images, the impact of which may be even stronger than abusive fictions.
kThe exploding market of videos for sale or rental have created new problems in making a distinction between child and adult consumption. Classified descriptions of the content on the package, which offer a kind of violence rating, can be of some help to parents but probably do not protect all children in real life. Computer games of a violent nature raise similar problems.

Contents:

kThe Media as Monitors of the Rights of the Child
kReporting on Children with Respect
kParticipation of Children in the Media
kProtection against Harmful Influences
kConclusions

Conclusions

  1. kThe media could choose to play an important role in monitoring  the status of children and the efforts by the authorities to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. An effective reporting of such kind would require knowledge about the convention and its functioning, a systematic approach and competent reporters.
  2. The media could also analyze its own performance in the light of the principles and standards of the convention. Corrective measures need to be taken to ensure that the integrity of individual children be  respected, for instance in the media reports on abuse or crime. Intervention against the honour and reputation of the child shall not be accepted; the convention recommends legal support for the protection against that form of abuse.
  3. The image of the child in the media should be discussed and stereotyping  criticized. A self-critical appraisal by media organizations themselves would be helpful as a platform for such discussion.
  4. Further efforts towards opening the media for children and their participation  should be encouraged. Special newspaper pages or radio-TV programmes for and with children are important. The schools could play a role in creating a dialogue between children and the media, for instance, within the framework of the "Newspaper in Education" project.
  5. The authorities should actively support efforts to ensure production of information material  for children, including child literature. It is important that there exists such basic information in languages used by the children. Supplementary efforts are likewise needed to open media for children with disabilities.
  6. The authorities also have a special responsibility for the dissemination of information material "of social and cultural benefit to the child." Children have the right to be acquainted with positive values of  understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin." This might be achieved through subsidizing existing media or via supplementary action.
  7. Governments need to develop a comprehensive policy on how to protect children from harmful influences of media  - both through supporting 'positive" alternatives and finding effective ways of limiting the 'negative" aspects. Some countries have already developed a variety of approaches in this field in what appears to be a deliberate policy. The government of Norway has developed a comprehensive plan of action which could serve as a model for other countries.
  8. Guidelines  are needed for how the "best interests of the child" should be protected in a competitive media market. Regulations - voluntary or mandatory - on certain hours for broadcasting of violent materials or on special ages for entry to cinemas have had some positive effect. Systematic efforts of informing parents also seem to have some potential. Such endeavours should be maintained. At the same time it is clear that new methods for protection are needed in connection with videos and computer programmes consumed in the home.
  9. The discussions on media violence have to include a broader perspective  on how children now spend their day. The problems in relation to the modern media are augmented by the fact that many children spend more time in front of television than in school and that their time with their parents is reduced. Many children do not have an adult present to explain violent images in the news and to put these into an understandable context. This recent pattern raises a number of fundamental questions which seem not to be sufficiently addressed in several countries.
  10. Awareness campaigns are needed in order to reduce the market for exploitative media violence. Voluntary consumer movements  are needed to watch the performance of television and other information companies. The independent media should on their own initiative establish monitoring boards to react to harmful output and set common standards.
  11. International co-operation  should be developed to support the less resourceful countries with means and advice for giving children access to the media and to prevent the harmful aspects. The richer states may as well benefit from international exchange on, for instance, how to develop acceptable techniques for getting media producers to respect the rights of the child. In this regard, "Nordicom," the new UNESCO centre in Goteborg for pooling knowledge about 'violence on the screen" can hopefully bring the discussion forward.

Contents:

kThe Media as Monitors of the Rights of the Child
kReporting on Children with Respect
kParticipation of Children in the Media
kProtection against Harmful Influences
kConclusions


 

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