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Promoting Research on Television and Children in Asia

Asia has taken a big leap in the use of advanced communication technologies in recent years. A large number of local, regional and multinational satellite television companies have established a strong presence. The internet is spreading quickly, with even the poorest of countries aspiring to join the network. On top of this a large number of communication satellites are placed in orbit by Asian countries.
 
Recognising the need to study the impact of these changes on the lives of children in Asia AMIC launched an empirical study on children and the media in Asia. It is continuing. The first phase of the study examined the nature and types of children's television programmes available for children in Asia. It examined the level of awareness among children's television programme producers and TV policy makers about the rights of the child as enunciated in the United Nations Charter on Children's Rights. The study looked at the nature of the world created for children by these television programmes. How do these programmes impinge on the child's conception of gender differences, racial and ethnic identities and values relating to economic activities? Finally the study looks at the resources available for the production of children's television programmes in Asia? This phase of the study is completed. AMIC is currently looking for funds to publish these findings as a monograph. In 1999 AMIC launched another study. This was on the portrayal of children in television and the press in 13 countries in Asia. The countries are Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. The study is on going. Its findings will be presented at the Second Asian Summit on Children's Rights and the Media, in Dhaka, Bangladesh in March 2000.
 
It is common knowledge that most television programmes are not produced with children's interest in mind. Like other commercial commodities most of these are produced for profit in the market place. However it is sometimes asserted that market forces are the best arbiters of peoples needs. The claim is that the market provides what the people like. AMIC believes that such logic cannot be applied to children living in the emerging multimedia age in Asia. In principle such logic is not different from the logic of the pornographer.
 
In most Asian countries children under the age of 15 comprise around 40 per cent of the population. However only a very small proportion of TV programmes, radio programmes, cinema, books, periodicals and newspapers are produced for children. While published data on the proportion of children's media are scanty; it has been estimated that in some Asian countries, such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka this is less than five percent. The lack of information on Children and media is indicative of the lack of interest among the research community and the ruling classes about this issue. It is also indicative of the absence of an accepted policy regarding communication for children. This situation becomes all the more glaring when one considers the fact that in many poorer countries in Asia, a large proportion of children who should be in school are not in school. The proportion is particularly high in the case of Asian girls.
 
In those Asian countries where the economies are growing rapidly and racing ahead to stay competitive, rampant commercialism has entered children's media programming. For instance programme related products are heavily advertised and marketed to children. Different media systems collaborate to produce and market children's products as part of their media fare. For instance the TV programme Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle spawned comic books, computer games, movies and countless commercials over radio and TV to make it a household name in Asia.
 
Countries in Asia have many cultural, economic and social differences. At the very elementary level one could discern two Asias: the poorer Asia and the richer Asia. Access to television is different in these two regions. Bangladesh and Nepal, two of the less developed countries in Asia, have around 14 and five television sets for 1000 population respectively. The comparable figure for India and Indonesia are 67 sets and 46 sets respectively. In contrast to this in the richer parts of Asia ownership of television is quite widespread. South Korea has 416 sets per 1000 population; Singapore 224 sets and Malaysia 102 sets. There are also different types of ownership and management of television stations in different countries in Asia. The stations may be owned by government, they may be owned by private individuals or it can be a mixture of the two. These factors have an important bearing on development of television broadcasting in Asian countries. They also influence the policies that are followed in relation to children's television programmes in these countries.
 
What are the types of television programmes available for children in Asia? For purposes of this research television programmes were classified into 12 types. These are Animation or Cartoons; Puppets; Story Telling; Serial/Drama; Pre-school Magazine; Magazine Information; Information/News; Magazine Entertainment; Quiz/Games; Music; Religious; Cultural/Traditional. There is also an "other" category to include those programmes that cannot be classified within these 12 categories.
 
Two factors stand out in relation to the type of programmes available for children in Asia. One is the predominance of animation programmes. It is the single largest category of programmes. The second is the dominance of foreign programmes in this category. The predominance of foreign programmes is compounded by a more recent phenomenon in the television scene in Asia. This is the transmission of programmes by foreign multinational television broadcasters such as StarTV, CNN and BBC World Service to Asian audiences. Here again the dominant type of programme for children are animation or cartoon programmes followed by drama programmes. However it is clear that controlling satellite access alone is not enough to prevent the dominance of foreign programmes. Malaysia which has restricted the ownership of Satellite dishes still has a very high proportion of foreign children's programmes transmitted by local stations. There should also be active encouragement of local programme production for children. Market forces by themselves may not generate sufficient local television programmes for children. The study also shows paucity of informational, cultural and pre-teen programmes among the total fare offered to children in many Asian countries.
 
How familiar are the TV producers about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC)? The study shows that of the 10 countries surveyed only three were sufficiently aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The countries are China, Japan and Vietnam. In these three countries the contents of the Convention are consciously incorporated into TV programmes.
 
Overall children's programmes produced in many Asian countries do not appeal to the children for whom they are meant. Not a single of the programmes recalled by the sample of children interviewed in India was made in India. When respondents from the Indian national television Doordarshan were asked about programme priorities none of them mentioned children's programmes. In Indonesia, of 15 programmes most preferred by children seven were programmes for adults. The study shows that only a small percentage of what is made available are actually watched by children. Generally locally produced children's TV programmes target a wide age range: from 4 to 12 years. Children within this age range have a wide variation of cognitive abilities. Television programmes targeting such a wide age range are generally ineffective in appealing to such a group. Television stations also broadcast a large number of programmes for pre-schoolers. Older children's needs are not sufficiently met. Consequently older children consume a large proportion of adult programmes. In many stations no special training was provided for children's programme producers. The priority given to children's programmes is low. This is because of the belief among managers that the audience ratings of children's programmes do not justify high expenditure. In some Asian countries such as the Philippines many children's issues have become politicized. Sometimes the way television handle these issues are not in the best interest of the children. For instance child victims of sex and violence are made to relate gruesome details for the benefit of TV cameras.
 
According to Mira Aghi, Indian media researcher, around 75 percent of her sample of children mentioned programmes made for adults as the ones they liked. Crime, thrillers, comedies and family serials form the core of the programmes liked by her respondents. Sri Lankan researcher Dharmadasa observes that locally produced children's programmes are often not up to the level with regard to quality and content that most children demand. According to a survey carried out by Survey Research Malaysia, of 100 most viewed programmes in Malaysian television by children between the ages 6-14, only three are children's programmes. These are all foreign productions. Their rank is given in brackets. Cyber Cop (39); Ultraman Trio (63); Alamria Disney (80).
 
Of the countries surveyed only three have followed policies conducive to the development of television programmes for children. These are China, Vietnam and Japan. In China and Vietnam support received from the government was crucial. In Japan public broadcasting policy of NHK was behind the success of children's television. Individual producers in some Asian countries are making a valiant effort to breathe life into children's programmes. However in many Asian countries children's television programmes have to compete in the marketplace. In this it could not succeed. The advertisers and marketers saw little profit to be made from children's television. AMIC survey shows clearly the need to develop children's television in many countries in Asia. It also shows that market forces will not do this. Nor is it realistic to expect governments of these countries to put in resources for children's television. There are many other pressing needs that compete for the attention of the governments. A concerted effort by concerned groups is needed to mobilize support for children's television in Asia. Resources of government, civil society, educational institutions and commercial organizations need to be harnessed. At the Asian Summit of Child Rights and the Media, held in Manila in 1996, AMIC proposed the creation of an Asian Children's Communication Fund for the production and marketing of quality children's programme for television, radio and press. This proposal was made again at the Second World Summit on Television for Children held in London in March 1998. We strongly believe that this is a practical way of addressing issues concerning children and media in Asia where one of the main constraints is inadequate resources.
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