Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today we see journalists for the first time at the conference. Veet Vivarta, the Executive secretary of ANDI, tries to bring journalists to come forward and say what they have to say about children as an audience. Like yesterday there are no official broadcast journalists around and so the discussion gathers two ombudsmen from influential Brazilian newspapers and two senior editors from Chile the Guardian UK. One children’s magazine editor is also present.

Written by Free Press Unlimited director Leon Willems in Brazil

Why is it so difficult to give children attention in the media?
As expected from ombudsmen they immediately take the discussion hostage and steer away from children to the global newspaper-crisis, how social media are ruining their income earning model leading to less and less income allowing for specialised pages for children and editors who understand topics that are relevant to children. And then the discussion goes on and on in expected patterns where newspapers ride a high horse about ethical standards and the editorial system and so on and so forth. Don’t get me wrong, newspaper ethics, the staged editorial process and quality standards are vital for credibility, contextual analysis and added value of the press but it is cynical how not even one of the panellists seems to really care about the topic of the conference, children and media. It is sometimes irritating to be present at scenes where journalists display their overbearing arrogance and superiority over the “crowd”. But the Brazilian educators, children rights activists and government people are way to decent to hit the issue back to the panellists and demand focus on children. So I dropped out of the panel. In the lobby I meet several frustrated children advocates in the media. Sesame street is there, some UN people and people who are working in Favela television projects, social projects similar to community media, trying to empower slum youth. Why is it so difficult to have at least some attention to children and youth in the media?

In Ecuador only 0.1 % of the budget for TV is spent on children
Broadcasters and legacy media around the world seem to hold on to their only known business model: increase sports, put soap opera prime time, have kinky bigots present celebrity talk shows and get pimps and hookers to do reality shows. You suddenly understand why public television in Europe is so damned important. Somehow fixing slots and budgets, distinctly dedicated to children and youth is the only way to ensure expertise and program quality. I wonder how these dedicated budgets will survive the cuts for the public media in my own country, the Netherlands. Alejandra Cueva, from NNace TV Ecuador has done some research about these mainstream media trends. Of all television time in her country, 32% is dedicated to sport, 31% to politics. A mere 1% is dedicated to children. And if you compare the budget it is even worse: only 0.1% of the budget for TV is spent on Children and Youth. And that is of course because the only thing that is shown for children are cartoons that are being bought by the bulk for zero dollars.

How can you keep ignoring 50% of the population?
When I return to the panel of journalists the discussion reached the Unesco indicators for sustainable media. The panel leader, Ricardo from the Fundacion Nuevo Periodismo, good friends of Free Press Unlimited, takes the audience through these indicators that are benchmarks for a healthy and sustainable press. It is quite new here, as are all debates about the media industry in Brazil. They keep a close front and do not engage with these debates. But what does financial sustainability mean when the media industry itself is not interested in serving its audiences? I know that percentage games can always be tricky but this is no longer fun. Roughly 50% of the population of Latin American countries are children and youth under 18. A mere one percent for dedicated programming is a bit stark don’t you think, ladies and gentlemen of the media broadcast and print industry?