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Kids in the frame at WSMC 2014

Last week the World Summit on Media for Children ran in Malaysia. Flying the flag for NZ was NZ On Air’s Jane Wrightson, invited to speak on a panel examining funding models.

An initiative of Australian educator Dr Patricia Edgar, the founding director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, the summit first ran in Melbourne back in 1995. It’s since travelled to London, Thessaloniki, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Karlstard. This time around the Asia-Pacific Broadcasters Union (ABU) hosted the conference in Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Patricia Edgar

Dr Patricia Edgar opens the 2014 WSMC

Wrightson accepted the invitation to participate partly because the event was taking place somewhat closer to home than most other editions have. She also noted that NZOA will be reviewing its children’s strategy in 2015/16 so the event offered an opportunity to take a look at what was happening in the children’s space in other countries. Following on from its report Where Are The Audiences, released in July, NZOA also has a child-focused audience research project going out in the field shortly.

On her return from Malaysia Wrightson noted “widespread concern at the lack of decent funding for children’s content, especially of the type not intended to sell toys or ice creams”. WSMC delegates were “uniformly envious at the presence of a dedicated independent fund, and one which actively sets aside money for children’s content”. (c25% of NZ On Air’s TV programming budget goes on programming for children and youth.)

The slow demise of the PSB
The summit addressed the role of public broadcasters. While there’s been much criticism made locally of TVNZ’s eagerness to withdraw from its public service responsibilities, it’s hardly a NZ-specific issue. Wrightson reckoned most WSMC delegates “were highly critical of the increasingly ‘commercial’ behaviour of PSBs – including the BBC and ABC”. She also noted that the push for returns and merchandising, and the perceived decrease in a pedagogy/learning focus when developing entertainment-focused content, did not go down well with the academics and child advocates in particular.

There were few programme makers present, perhaps not surprisingly, so limited discussion took place around what might constitute ‘best practice’ for creators of children’s content, although there was a session devoted to the availability (or lack of it) of high quality children’s content.

Going down the (You)Tube

Acknowledging the increasing role the internet plays in delivering children’s content, the summit also presented sessions on online child safety and children’s ability to seek out and programme their own entertainment.

Online content was one issue around which Wrightson noted concern from several quarters, not just about what content children might come across online, but also what they often didn’t: the “culturally crucial local content” that rarely cuts through against the volume of (predominantly) US content available online.

Wrightson said, “[It was] Fair to say that all countries present are doing a fair bit of head scratching around online behaviour,” although some of that was for reasons not relevant in NZ.”

Encouraging creators to be bold in their choices, delegates strongly believed that media remains so influential that a focus on children’s use, exposure and understanding remains vital.

Wrightson noted that even countries with relatively tough standards regimes are now talking about the need for teaching media literacy, something they certainly weren’t doing when Wrightson was up in Asia with the BSA a decade ago discussing such ideas.

Among the summit other speakers was Prix Jeunesse’s Dr. Maya Götz, who presented here early last year as part of the NZ Childrens Screen Trust and Script to Screen seminar on children’s screen content.

On reflection

The summit’s final session adopted a universal charter on media content for kids, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration: Empowering Children in 21st Century.

Wrightson said that she left the summit with

“an increasing sense that any public system funding/transmitting children’s content needs a clear advocate or strategy, something overarching the production itself.

“That approach tended to happen in a traditional broadcast environment (commissioners working with producers and funders, sometimes with a strong NGO lobby voice added) secure in the knowledge that the audience would find the content and judge it accordingly.”

The 2015-16 review of NZOA’s children’s strategy will offer the opportunity to seek out solutions to some of the challenges identified by the WSMC and other organisations.

The World Summit on Media for Children ran 8 – 10 September in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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