The Children’s Media Foundation

Invisible Children

CMF Board member, Professor Jeanette Steemers (King’s College London), Christine Singer (King’s College London) and Professor Naomi Sakr (University of Westminster) are engaged in a long-term project studying children's media in the Arab world. Their most recent work is an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project on “Children’s Screen Content in an Era of Forced Migration”.


 

Questions of diversity and children’s content are often overshadowed in the UK by the profound difficulties of actually funding original UK children’s programming in a tough economic climate.  Yet diversity and children’s right to access high quality, original content are fundamental for public service broadcasting as provided by the BBC, and also by commercial public service broadcasters, ITV, Channel Four and Five. In recent years, however, the representation of diversity within home-grown children’s drama and factual content has largely been the preserve of the BBC, because commercial PSBs’ spending and commissioning for children has plummeted.  The ability to ‘represent diversity and alternative viewpoints’ is also fundamental for the Public Service Broadcasting Contestable Fund, which was announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in December 2017, as an alternative source of partial funding for children’s content.

Questions about diversity are also central for our Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project on “Children’s Screen Content in an Era of Forced Migration”.  The aim of the project is to facilitate dialogue between Arab and European stakeholders to better meet the information and entertainment needs not only of Arabic-speaking children who have recently arrived in Europe, but also the European-born children who have witnessed their arrival. The project builds on our earlier research on children’s media production in the Arab world, but is driven by the migration crisis in 2014-15 when thousands of Arabic-speaking families, mostly from Syria and Iraq, fled their homelands for Europe, including the UK. Refugee children comprise just a small segment of the UK and wider European child audience, but their fair and accurate representation within children’s content is one step towards not only making them feel at home, but also helping European-born children understand their situation.

To this end we have been running workshops for European broadcasters, policy-makers, advocacy groups and producers that look at European children’s content featuring refugee children or just children from diverse backgrounds. The first workshop took place on 4 December 2017 at BBC Media City in Salford Quays, just before the Children’s Global Media Summit (CGMS) 2017. With 30 experts from both European and Arab countries, we provided a space to discuss issues of diversity and representation.  Responding to shows such as Apple Tree House (CBeebies), My Life: Coming to Britain (CBBC) and Refugee (TrueTube) the workshop highlighted children’s innate need to ‘see themselves on screen’, the necessity of a child-centred approach, and the importance of focusing on similarities over difference to avoid stereotyping.

Our second round of workshops will be held on 19 and 20 March 2018 in Copenhagen, as part of CPH:DOX, the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival. As in Manchester, the event offers a platform for Arab and European media practitioners, filmmakers, broadcasters and child rights specialists to share their knowledge and expertise. Through a mix of group discussions, presentations and screenings, the workshop will provide opportunities to critically explore screen content for diverse audiences, drawing on examples from Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.  A third workshop will take place on 24 May as part of the Prix Jeunesse festival in Munich.

Ultimately, the project seeks to raise awareness about the communication needs of newly arrived children among the wider European public and to inspire further research into the ways in which screen media can help young refugees develop their identities as they settle into their new European homes.  These issues will form the focus of the project’s concluding international symposium, Invisible Children: Public Service Media, Diversity and Forced Migration at King’s College London on 14 September 2018. This one-day event will once again bring together key players from industry, advocacy groups and academia to think about children’s content for diverse audiences. It will provide a platform for discussing our findings and recommendations, to be published as a Stakeholder Resource Book, and for launching a practitioners’ network.

For further information, please visit the project website.

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