The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Our Children’s Future: Does Public Service Media Matter?

Feeling Included: The Value Of Public Service Media

Wincie is a champion of inclusivity and in this article she reflects on the value of public service media and why we must always remember that you can’t be what you can’t see.

Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. That sounds like a truism, but actually it’s a simple and important fact that we all occasionally forget. What our children see, hear and experience today, will impact the way they act and the decisions they take in the future. Once you understand this as a broadcaster, producer or writer, you can’t ignore the great power and responsibilities that creating content for kids implies.

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

These are inspirational words from one of my favourite songs “The Greatest Love Of All” by Whitney Houston. It always makes me feel emotional because inclusion is about a feeling, and the powerful feeling of inclusion can never be underestimated. And Whitney is right - we need to be reminded of what it is like to be a child in an adult’s world. Life for children today is very different to what we experienced during our own childhoods, so we can’t guess what they want, but we can help make them feel happy, proud, safe and included.

Children’s media has the opportunity and responsibility to role-model inclusion. The cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think”. Children should be woven into the fabric of children’s media and it is imperative for inclusivity to be encouraged and practiced in children's media strategies. Everyone digests media differently and being able to cater your message to diverse audiences will help connect and educate all audiences. Understanding the importance of inclusivity, and the value of knowing your audience, will help shape the way children’s media make content relevant. As Barack Obama said in his 2008 campaign, "Yes we can" be and stay relevant.

In order to keep children’s media relevant and appealing to today’s kids, we need to put them at the centre of these discussions. We must ask them what they need and want to see on screen and more importantly, what is missing. If we let them lead the way, with inclusive practices, the kids’ media industry will naturally future-proof itself, staying relevant to the audience and creating a sense of belonging for all viewers.  I am hopeful that the ongoing policy review into Public Service Media by Ofcom and the DCMS will similarly seek to put children at the heart of their thinking as they deliberate policy interventions that will shape media regulation for the next decade.

As a parent, I believe it is always important to listen to my children. I particularly hate the old-school saying “children should be seen and not heard.” I believe, children should be seen and heard, as they have a lot to say and are very in tune with what is happening around them. As broadcasters and content creators, we have the power to make this happen. In order to bring children’s voices to my article, I asked my own children: why should we care about children’s media and why it is important. They were very clear in their answers. “Because content is important to us, to kill boredom”, “because we need to hear stories about ourselves that are relatable”, “because TV is not just for adults, we are important too” and “technology is the new way to watch whatever you want whenever you want”. They have obviously been around my zoom calls talking about inclusion whilst home schooling.

In essence; kids need content tailored for them, that message is pretty clear. They need to see themselves reflected on TV and technology means they are used to watching what they want, whenever they want it (almost). Children are a very discerning audience and the children’s media industry cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Listening to today’s children and their needs is essential if we want to move forward and still be the destination kids choose to watch their favourite content.

But let’s go back to 1990.  Yes, let’s go back to the 90’s when The Simpsons first aired, Home Alone was first released, Tim Berners-Lee published a formal proposal for the World Wide Web and Nickelodeon, as part of the opening of the Nickelodeon Studios, unveiled the "Nickelodeon's Declaration of Kids' Rights", a very important document, that was inspired by the USA's Bill of Rights and is still used by the network to date internationally. This declaration states:

You have the right to be seen, heard and respected as a citizen of the world.
You have the right to a world that is peaceful.
You have the right to be treated with equality regardless of the colour of your skin.
You have the right to be protected from harm injustice and hatred.
You have the right to an education that prepares you to run the world.
You have to write to your opinions and feelings even if others don’t agree with them.

Nickelodeon shared these rights because they supported and believed in justice, equality and human rights for all kids. I believe the Nickelodeon Bill of Rights is as powerful and relevant today as it was 31 years ago. It shows that inclusion has always been in the DNA of ViacomCBS and it has stood the test of time.

Nickelodeon’s motto has always been to listen to the audience and put them first in everything we do. Kids’ content creators and broadcasters need to listen to kids now more than ever. If you want to make content for children, who are the purest and most honest audience you will ever find, listen to them and go find their voices. They will tell you exactly what they want. Oliver Wendell Holmes states “Pretty much all the honest truth telling there is in the world is done by children”. Listening is a good step in the right direction to creating authentic inclusive content.

A good example of a show which listens to children and includes their voices is Grandpa Productions’ ‘The World According to Grandpa’ which airs on Channel 5’s kids’ block Milkshake!. The show is a humorous, imaginative, creative storytelling format designed to inspire children to laugh and learn through relatable intergenerational relationships. The beauty of the show is that each of the 25 episodes are prompted by a question posed by one of the three grandchildren. Children’s voices are well and truly embedded in the show as the questions asked of grandpa are genuine questions asked by children, which were gathered from numerous visits to schools by the writers. Real kids, with real and relevant questions.

If you want to make content for children you need to listen to kids, but not just any kids.  You need to listen to a diversity of children’s voices and experiences. Content creators should always ask themselves: “Whose voice is missing? How are you going to access real authentic kid’s voices and experiences? Are you making content for yourself, out of nostalgia from when you were young, or are you making content for a new generation that is hungry to see themselves and their lives reflected on TV?”

The best way to make children good is to make them happy” Oscar Wilde.

The world is changing fast and the children’s media industry has the privilege and great responsibility to be a window to the world for kids. Messages of inclusivity, kindness, honesty and empathy, if embedded into children’s media the right way, can have a long-lasting impact on children and their future. Business leaders are currently embarking on training, learning to be inclusive leaders and educating themselves on diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a brilliant thing to see adults getting involved and learning, although perhaps these qualities should be taught at an earlier age? We can’t predict what the future holds, but inclusion will always be valuable in a world that is forever changing, and we need to equip children to embrace differences. Also, if diversity on screen is paramount, the best way to tell authentic, diverse stories is to have diversity off screen as well.

The media industry holds great power over the socialisation of children. Do we want children to feel included or excluded when engaging with content? Children’s media has the power to influence viewers in many positive ways, but this can also become problematic if underrepresentation and exclusion or negative portrayal and stereotypes of certain identities such as gender, race, disability and socioeconomic diversity are not considered. Research shows that a lack of representation in media can lead to negative psychological outcomes for those with identities that are underrepresented or negatively portrayed (Tukachinsky, Mastro, & Yarchi, 2017). The pain of exclusion is real. Psychologists believe that it is important for humans to feel a sense of belonging and at ViacomCBS, we use the strapline when talking about inclusion “Be You, Belong”. Everyone wants to feel included and the business case for inclusion is overwhelming, especially in the creative sector.

Why would you not want different perspectives, different stories, different voices and experiences to influence your content? It makes for more interesting viewing. Children need to be entertained and educated about the world. Diversity in children’s media can and should open children’s minds to be the next content creators. There is a saying “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so let’s start role modelling so that children’s minds are open and not restricted.

All children need to be seen and heard so that they can aspire to their dreams. Children's media can help children believe that the Nickelodeon Bill of rights is achievable. We are missing a trick if we don't give children a voice.

The artist Nas, who recently won a Grammy, recorded a song a few years ago which amplified through the voice of children the lyrics: “I know I can, be what I want to be, if I work hard at it, I will be where I want to be”. Those lyrics give voice to that right; children deserve the chance to be what they want to be without restrictions or low expectations because of their background, race or religion, similar to the Nickelodeon bill of rights. Representation in children’s media is key, hence why Children’s media is necessary as it shapes the future of tomorrow’s adults. All children should be taught, they can be whatever they want to be.

Nickelodeon has a history of consciously defying the conventional wisdom with the kinds of characters and stories it captures and represents in its shows: a Latina Heroine (Dora the Explorer), a biracial princess and knight (Nella the Princess Knight), a black April O’Neil (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a diverse foster family (Hunter Street), a girl quarterback (Bella from Bella and the Bulldogs), a big family of 11 siblings with same-sex parents (The Loud House). More recently, a show centred on a Latina family including a kid with Down Syndrome (The Casagrandes), a disabled pup (PAW Patrol), kids of Indian Heritage (The Twisted Timeline of Sammy & Raj).

The media has a duty to reflect the world and celebrate differences. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” Nelson Mandela.

We have talked about the changing world; we need to discuss how children place great value in our world. Equity and sustainability are things children want to champion and they are passionate about it. How do we mix the world of influencers, who children look up to, with the world of children’s public service media…. ‘Go Green with the Grimwades’ does just that; a factual entertainment, reality-based environmental show commissioned from Dochearts, a BAME-owned production company, with financial support from the Government’s Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF) , which is administered by the British Film Institute.

The Grimwades are a famous YouTube family consisting of mum, dad and their six home-schooled children, who have over 32 million channel views and 254,000 subscribers. The show helps viewers learn to be more environmentally conscious with the five R’s Reduce, Recycle, Repair, Reuse and Refuse. This Milkshake! show educates children on topics such as plastic awareness, using water efficiently, connecting with nature, reusing clothes and the benefits of a zero-waste household. The show also embeds soft learning on numeracy, literacy, and STEM. Learning through entertainment equals edutainment. In order to stay relevant children’s media needs to research all the platforms where children are finding their content. My children love their Nintendo Switch and playing Roblox (safely). Children’s media producers need to understand what makes children tick in order to offer them what they are looking for.

It’s been a tough year for all of us, especially for children. Children’s media has been important in providing a source of escapism for kids. We have learnt from Covid-19 that we can still do things efficiently and successfully through remote working.

I believe that bringing together the creativity of young minds with our more seasoned and experienced content producers is the way forward. My favourite quote is “you don't know what you don’t know until you don’t know it”. In the spirit of inclusion, bring different voices into the room and listen.

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By Wincie Knight

Wincie Knight is VP of Global Inclusion Strategies at ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI). Fiercely passionate about the notion of diversity being less about filling quotas and more about creating a sense of belonging. She works collaboratively with all of VIMN’s Employee Resource Groups in offices in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, Madrid, Milan and Warsaw.

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