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Children and media

CHILDREN IN THE NEWS: Anura Goonasekara — Editor; Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre, School of Communication Studies Building, Nanyang Technological University, Jurong Point, P.O. Box 360, Singapore 916412. Rs. 1250.

IN MOST Asian countries, children under the age of 15 comprise around 40 per cent of the population. While published data on the proportion of children's media are scant it has been estimated that in some Asian countries like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, this is less than five per cent. This book is based on selected findings of studies conducted by the Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in1999.

It examines the portrayal of children in television programmes and newspapers in 13 Asian countries — Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. The Malaysian study documents how children and child-related issues are used as pawns in the power game. Dominant groups in society such as the political elite use child-related issues to gain political popularity and to discredit their opponents.

In 1999, a sexual abuse case caught the national attention. But the main focus was not on the implication of such an experience for the child but on the political affiliation of the alleged perpetrator. The Bangladesh study revealed that any drastic attempt to remove child labour would affect the families dependent on it and would also adversely affect children, as child labour could not be eliminated without eliminating extreme property.

The Indian study found that unless something newsworthy by way of sport, education or human interest; news coverage about children is a minor component of social issues.

A news story, which is supposed to generate public opinion about an issue, has the opposite effect due to ineffective presentation and reporting by mass media. Media occasionally report on just one or two industries that employ child labour. But it is common to see small boys serving tea even in government offices. The Indonesian study found out that even when journalists, publishers and broadcasters are enjoying freedom from government restrictions, they want to express this freedom by freely reporting politics and economic news.

In many Asian countries a news story highlighting children is generally included only when something sensational has happened — for instance, the sexual assault of 100 children in Lahore (Pakistan). In Thailand, which is relatively affluent, pictures of child suspects are published on the front page although this is against the law.

Even on television, small children who were raped by their father or grandfather were coerced to tell their stories in front of the large studio audience. Child victims are made to relate gruesome details for the benefit of TV cameras. Obviously, the media is not concerned with the sensitivity of the child.

There are moves in the Japanese legislature to create a special institution, which would regulate the content of various media to prevent the creation of a harmful environment for children and young people. But the researcher feels that promoting critical awareness among the public is better than censorship.

The Chinese study concludes that often television and newspapers consider children's issues by using the standard of adults.

In the eyes of many Chinese parents, children are not separate human beings. They look upon them as part of their own body and as their own property.

This means beating, scolding and humiliating children for the sake of "the child's good" are considered acceptable. Of the countries surveyed, only three — China, Japan and Vietnam — are sufficiently aware of the UN Convention of the Right of the Child. In these three countries, the contents of the convention are incorporated into TV programmes, though they too leave much to be desired. Journalists in many of the countries studied complained about the shortage of resources for reporting of issues relevant to children. The challenge is to take the coverage of children beyond sensational events and to put children in the news in positive ways. Although the time allocated for children's programmes have increased with the era of satellite transmission, the resources for production of the programmes have not increased proportionately.

Lack of information on children and media is indicative of the lack of the interest among the research community and ruling classes about this issue.

It is also indicative of the absence of an unaccepted policy regarding the use of the mass media for the benefit of children.

Media has been violating the rights of children by victimising, stereotyping images and denying children their right to communicate. The book is an invaluable study material on the state of children's media.

I. ARUL ARAM

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