|Paper presented at the Child Research Net Symposium 98 on Augmented Childhood: Evolution of Child Development in the Multi-media Environment.
January 22-24, 1998, Tokyo.
|Most mass media programmes are not produced with childrens interest in mind. Like other commercial commodities these are produced for profit in the market place. However it is sometimes asserted that the market place provides the people with what they like to get. The quotation, from Alice in Wonderland, cited above is a reminder to us that things are not as simple as that. As a group of professionals concerned about children living in a multimedia age, we must question the logic of such assertions.|
|In most Asian countries children under the age of 15 comprise around 40 per cent of the population. This proportion is even higher in poorer countries such as India and Bangladesh. However only a very small proportion of TV programmes, radio programmes, cinema, books, periodicals and newspapers are made for children. While published data on the proportion of childrens 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 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 countries where the economies are growing rapidly and racing ahead to stay competitive, rampant commercialism has entered childrens media programming. For instance programme related products are heavily advertised and marketed to children. Different media systems collaborate to produce and market childrens 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 this situation what kind of television programmes are offered to children between the ages of 6 and 15 years in Asian countries? Do they get what they like or do they like what they get? What sort of a world is created for children by these television programmes? To what extent are the policy makers and programme producers in Asian television stations aware of childrens rights as enunciated by UN?2 What are the resources available for the production of childrens television programmes in Asia?|
|These are some of the questions that the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) addressed in an empirical study of television and children in nine Asian countries3. The study is expected to be completed by the end of 1997. A monograph containing the more significant findings is planned for publication in 1998.|
|It is common knowledge that 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 are different in these two regions of Asia. Bangladesh and Nepal, two of the less developed countries in Asia, have around six television sets for 1000 population. The comparable figure for India and Indonesia are 38 sets and 46 sets respectively. In contrast to this in the richer parts of Asia ownership of television is quite wide-spread. South Korea has 416 sets per 1000 population; Singapore 200 sets and Malaysia 102 sets. (Goonasekera and Holaday, 1993) 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 childrens television programmes in these countries. Table 1 is a summary description of the television scene in terms of the level of economic development and patterns of ownership in 11 Asian 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. The 12 categories 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.|
|Tables two, three and four give data on the basis of this classification for two countries. The countries are India and Malaysia. India is from the poorer region of Asia and Malaysia is form the richer region. India has an open skies policy regarding reception of satellite television programmes by its citizens whereas Malaysia has imposed restrictions.|
|Table two gives data for Doordarshan in India. It is based on programme schedules for one week in January 1995. Two factors stand out in this data. One is the predominance of animation programmes. It is the single largest category of programmes (19.83%). This is so for many other countries in Asia. The second is the dominance of foreign programmes in this category (63.8%).|
|The predominance of foreign programmes is compounded by a more recent phenomena in the television scene in India. This is the transmission of programmes by foreign multinational television broadcasters such as StarTV, CNN and BBC World Service to Indian audiences. In addition India has its own satellite channels, some of which are up-linked from foreign points of origin such as Hong Kong. (See table three). Here again the dominant type of programme for children are animation or cartoon programmes (41.8%) followed by drama programmes (20.9). India has not controlled direct access to satellite programmes by its citizens. However most of the foreign satellite programmes are distributed mainly through Indian Cable Companies. Most people in India cannot afford satellite reception dishes as they are too expensive for them. These people subscribe to the cable services which re-transmit foreign satellite services along with local programmes such as local language movies.|
|Table four gives comparable data for Malaysia which is a much wealthier country than India. Unlike India, Malaysia controls access of its citizens to foreign satellite broadcasts by requiring them to get a license to use a satellite dish. The data in this table are in respect of locally broadcast programmes in three Malaysian channels viz. RTM1, RTM2 and TV3. Here again there is a predominance of foreign material among childrens programmes. Nearly 88 per cent of all childrens programmes are of foreign origin. Controlling satellite access to its citizens alone is not enough to prevent the dominance of foreign programmes. Along side such a policy there should also be active encouragement of local programme producers to produce programmes for children. Market forces by themselves may not generate sufficient local television programmes for children.|
|How widespread in Asia are the characteristics of childrens programmes we have described for India and Malaysia? Table five and table six give a summary of comparable statistics for seven Asian countries. The statistics show a predominance of animation programmes followed by drama. Furthermore nearly 48 per cent of all programmes for children are of foreign origin. The data also shows paucity of informational, cultural and preschool programmes among the total fare offered to children.|
|While these characteristics are common to many Asian countries there are also significant differences in policies regarding childrens television in Asia. Some of these are described below.
In China 5there are two kinds of programmes relating to children. One is programmes aimed directly at children. Such programmes include entertainment, education and news. The other type is programmes aimed at educating adults regarding their duties towards children. How familiar are the TV producers of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC)? Leading group of China Central Television (CCTV) in Beijing and particularly CCTV youth and Childrens Department were aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Contents of the Convention are consciously incorporated into TV programmes. Examples of such television programmes are those made for Childrens Broadcast Day (December), International Childrens Day (June) and programmes telecast on winter and summer vacations. Big Wind Mill and Tell It Like It Is are two television programmes that incorporated the principles of UN-CRC. Implementation of the UN-CRC provisions is often considered in combination with that of the National Programme of Action for Child Development in China.
|In India6 the total number of childrens programmes in all channels is less than one percent. Most of these programmes are designed for upper class urban child. However these are not popular among this audience because of lack of entertainment. Not a single of the programmes recalled by the sample of children interviewed was made in India. When respondents from DDI were asked about programme priorities none of them mentioned childrens programmes. None of the networks has any specific policies to create awareness or to create programmes on childrens rights. An obvious gap in childrens television programming in India is the virtual absence of programmes specifically made for early teens.|
|In Indonesia 7tight competition for advertising revenue has resulted in little attention being paid to childrens programmes because such programmes are perceived as being less attractive to advertisers. The emergence of private television and lack of proper policies and guidelines about programming content has resulted in an uncontrolled and confused situation. In this situation it has become difficult to develop childrens television. Of 15 programmes most preferred by children seven were programmes for adults. Station managers had little or no knowledge about UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.|
|In Japan 8 NHK, has taken a leading role in the production of childrens programmes. Its productions are enjoyable and has educational value. Childrens programmes are broadcast in three out of four NHK channels. A project called YUMEDIA uses a traveling caravan to bring hands on broadcast experience to grade school children. In contrast to NHK, which is a public broadcast organization, the commercial stations in Japan do not have separate childrens programmes. Childrens programmes are included in programmes for family viewing. In commercial TV stations animation and metamorphosis drama are the main kinds of childrens programmes. All top rated childrens programmes in Japan are produced in Japan. Producers in NHK are well aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Publicity for childrens rights are given through information and educational programmes.|
|In Malaysia 9the government broadcasting station, RTM, is making a serious effort to produce childrens television programmes. The commercial stations, TV3 and Metrovision, have not shown similar enthusiasm. This neglect is due to the perception that childrens programmes do not have much appeal to the advertisers. RTM producers are quite aware of the UN Convention on Childrens Rights. They have gained this knowledge through international conferences in which they had participated. Private broadcasters on the other hand are unaware or vaguely aware of UN-CRC.|
|In Nepal10 severe financial constraints have hampered the production of childrens television programmes. Childrens programmes hold low priority due to the perceived lack of advertising/ market support. This is made worse by lack of adequate training in the production of childrens programmes and lack of creativity. Nepalese television producers have heard of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but are not familiar with its detailed provisions.|
|In Philippines11 there has been an increase interest in childrens television programmes in recent years. However this still remains a neglected area. Lack of profit in childrens programmes is the main reason for its neglect. Furthermore many childrens issues have become politicized. Sometimes the way television handle these issues are not in the best interests of the children. For instance child victims of sex and violence are made to relate gruesome details for the benefit of TV cameras. Several bills have been filed in the Philippines Congress to improve television programming for children. These include the introduction of a rating system and regulating television advertising.|
|In Singapore 12there has been some revival of childrens television programmes after corporatization of television in 1994. Locally produced childrens 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 childrens needs are not sufficiently met. Consequently older children consume a large proportion of adult programmes. No special training has been provided for childrens programme producers. The programmes reflect Singapores political and cultural climate. Stress is on maintaining racial and religious harmony and political stability. The priority given to childrens programmes are low. This is because of the belief among managers that the audience ratings of these programmes do not justify high expenditure. Only few producers were aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.|
|In Vietnam13 every year the government sets targets for producing childrens programmes. These programmes are directed at children or are aimed to educate adults regarding the needs of the children. Financial limitations are a major factor which inhibits production of childrens television programmes. There are very few programmes catering to children over ten years of age. Producers are aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and related state policies.|
|Overall childrens programmes produced in many Asian countries do not appeal to the children for whom they are meant. Consequently only a small percentage of what is made available are actually watched by children. According to Mira Aghi, (1996) 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 (1994) observes that locally produced childrens 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 (1994) of 100 most viewed programmes in Malaysian television by children between the ages 6-14, only three are childrens programmes. These are all foreign productions. Their rank is given in brackets. Cyber Cop (39); Uetraman Trio (63); Alamria Disney (80).|
|Of the countries surveyed 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 childrens television. However in many other countries childrens television programmes had to compete in the marketplace. In this it could not succeed. The advertisers and marketers saw little profit to be made form childrens television. AMIC survey shows clearly the need to develop childrens television in many countries in Asia. It also shows that market forces will not do this. A concerted effort by concerned groups is needed to mobilize support for childrens television in Asia. Resources of government, civil society, educational institutions and commercial organizations need to be mobilized. At the Asian Summit of Child Rights and the Media14 AMIC proposed the creation of an Asian Childrens Communication Fund for the production and marketing of quality childrens programme for television, radio and press. We believe that this is a practical way of addressing issues concerning children and media in Asia.|