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Children to gauge how child-friendly the media is

By K. Kannan

NEW DELHI, JAN. 30. In a first-of-its-kind attempt, children of Bal Panchayat, a forum promoted by an NGO, Community Aid Sponsorship Programme (CASP), in association with Plan International have undertaken a media-scanning activity to gauge how child-friendly the media is at present and whether children's voices find an echo in the media.

The scanning of 17 major newspapers and three prominent news channels from across the country carried out over a period of three months from October to December last year has revealed that children are, by and large, passive recipients of news. While their achievements are not highlighted by the media at all, stories relating to child abuse are found aplenty and are even played up in several newspapers.

"There is also an increasing trend of highlighting issues relating to children only if some celebrity is involved,'' said Hemlata Rawat, a senior member of Bal Panchayat. "In any case, children's participation in the media is only confined to the features section of newspapers and never extended to the news columns.''

While all major newspapers carried the story regarding Lalita, a girl from Jharkhand, who made it to the cover of the UNICEF State of the Children's Report this year, would it have had the same impact if the international agency had chosen not to highlight it, the children asked.

The media-scanning activity, which would continue through the year, has been undertaken as part of engaging the media in the area of child rights. "Two years ago, we set up the child rights information centre in Sangam Vihar and we have also started compiling newspaper clippings relating to children's issues which is brought out as FACTS,'' Saroj, another Bal Panchayat member said.

While the children have meticulously prepared charts that reveal which news item relating to a major children's issue appeared in which page and what was the column size, they have decided to take up only three issues in the beginning - children's education, child abuse and children's achievements. "Media ignores child achievers and they hardly get any space in newspapers. While child abuse is the favourite topic in the media, a lot of newspapers give space to children's education especially stories like schools running in tents, not enough teachers available in school or for that matter, lack of facilities in educational institutions,'' says Hemlata.

As for scanning the electronic channels - Doordarshan, NDTV and Star News - the children admitted that they could not do it regularly because of the pressure of exams. And whatever little viewing they did revealed a child-unfriendly media with even important events like the release of the UNICEF State of the Children's Report receiving a cursory mention.

While the children of Bal Panchayat shared their findings with the media at a programme held here recently, they were cheered by the noted film actress, Nandita Das, who commended them for their honesty and meticulousness. She also told them to include news which impacts children's lives in their scanning apart from extending it to a range of children's issues. ``While media was a commercial enterprise and profit was its main motive, walking the tightrope and maintaining a balance between social concerns and commercial interests was possible,'' she said.

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