Commercialisation of Children’s Media Hampering Global Citizenship

By Kalinga Seneviratne* | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

KUALA LUMPUR (IDN) – Excessive commercialization of children’s media, especially television, is obstructing efforts aimed at education and capacity building for global citizenship and raising awareness among children of the diversity of the world, according to experts.

Many of the speakers at the recent World Summit on Media for Children in Kuala Lumpur agreed with Dr Patricia Edgar, former director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, that the majority of children’s programmes are commercially driven and not educational.

“These less creative and cheaply produced programmes are made for entertainment with the intention to sell their merchandise,” she told participants in the Summit September 8 to 10. “An effective educational programme is about good values, constructive messages and most importantly, contains local elements to help the social and emotional development of children.”

Dr Edgar said it was important for children to understand the “real world” and to be taught the correct way to deal with problems rather than overprotect them and let them live in a fancy world.

Rosmah Mansor, the wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, said that programmes for children should be designed to “teach valuable lessons that will shape beliefs, attitudes and behaviour” for living in a multi-racial and multi-religious community.

She argued that children’s media should be seen as an educational tool rather than a commercial commodity. Educators needed to master the skill of using media as a teaching tool to foster reflective and critical thinking, and to encourage curiosity. In this endeavour, rather than de-regulating, government regulators and policymakers should address media content using legislation and incentives as effective tools to enhance the quantity and quality of educational and informational programmes.

“Children need to see human endeavour at its best, not just the side that produces conflict through stereotyping, hate speech and bullying,” argued Rosmah. “Good programming can help children cope with upsetting emotional responses to media content and to make critical judgments about violence on TV and advertisements.”

The United Nations has set three priority areas for fostering global citizenship and all of these relate to education and intellectual development of children. This includes putting every child in school; improving the quality of learning; and making education a transformational process that brings shared values to life.

Critics of today’s children’s media argue that it is these shared values that are lacking, particularly in television programmes – unless you believe that these shared values are developing tastes for merchandise that is a by-product of the “fancy world” the programmers create for the children, in order to sell merchandise.

“If good global citizenship means a passion for global justice and compassion for the other, we have to develop children’s stories in the form of cartoons and short films that will inculcate the right values in the young from a tender age,” argued Dr Chandra Muzaffar, President of the Just World Movement.

He believes that global citizenship should be anchored in values that are universal. “All Western values are not necessarily universal. Neither are all non-Western values parochial,” he noted. “On the contrary, there is a great deal in our own religious and ethical traditions, which are universal. These should be harnessed and articulated through local languages and art forms. In the process we would be strengthening local cultural identities.”

Consolidating local cultural identities

Strengthening local cultural identities not necessarily means that one becomes nationalistic and inward looking. Quite the contrary argued Aldana Duhalde, Project Developer of IDIEM Media Research Institute in Argentina. Through a regional television project her team has developed a cross-border common identity she calls a “social kind of identity” that focuses on issues such as identifying with nature and the landscape, the desire to grow economically and not be viewed as under-developed, and finding their own solutions to problems.

“Material things are not that important,” argued Duhalde in an interview with IDN. “Expression of love is very important among us … listening to each other. (Creating) strong discussion dealing with different points of view in open space not hiding our emotions.”

Duhalde is of the view that new media technology and the spread of social media provides a lot of opportunities to produce programmes for children that could encourage better understanding and educate the young to become peaceful global citizens. “Our project is non-commercial and non-profit,” she explained. “You need not have a lot of money to produce (but) if you trust kids they trust each other and kids will produce the programmes together (with us).”

Filmmaker Fredrik Holmberg from Sweden told IDN there was a need to launch a global campaign to revive public service broadcasting values. “It’s different voices and we need more diversity,” he argued. “Media is not just reaching out, it’s also looking in. We have to be both global and glocal at the same time.”

Holmberg believes that the media for children should be seen as a public investment. “We should not treat kids as consumers. Producing programmes for kids is expensive (but) we need to pay for it (from public purse).”

This was an argument that was frequently advocated by speakers from around the world at the Kuala Lumpur Summit. But no one seemed to be brave enough to question the government’s priorities in public funding, especially enormous budgets allocated for buying arms that are rarely used.

IDN put this question to Moneeza Hasmi from Pakistan, President of the Public Media Alliance (formerly Commonwealth Broadcasting Association). She agreed that perhaps siphoning 1 percent of the defence budgets to public service broadcasting for children could make a big difference.

“We must talk about promoting public media for the public, so that we produce generations who are more balanced, more civilized, more aware of peace,” said Hasmi, adding, that “(they must also be) more tolerant and aware of the fact that there are other human beings who are not as fortunate as them (because they don’t have money).”

She said that living in Pakistan she can see first hand why we need to create good global citizens. “These are very difficult times we are living in, this is not the world we grew up in, sometimes I feel very upset,” she said, arguing that our values have been destroyed by commercialization of everything and anything.

“It has become a commercial economy . . . economy based on making more money and more money and continue to make more money. There is no such thing as doing things because they should be done,” said Hasmi. “We let them (governments) make more arms and kill more people (but) there are sane and balanced people in the world, who must come forward to put money into public service media, so that we can make programmes for children to promote better (educated and tolerant) global citizens.”

*Kalinga Seneviratne is IDN Special Correspondent for Asia-Pacific. He teaches international communications in Singapore. [IDN-InDepthNews – October 5, 2014]

The writer’s previous IDN articles:

Image credit: Asian Broadcasting Union, Malaysia

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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