Children - the media's forgotten voices

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Children may constitute 39% of our population, but how often do we see or hear their voices in the news?

There is no one better to ask about children's representation in the media than children themselves.

Research carried out by non-governmental media watchdog Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) shows that children account for only 9% of all news stories, showing that their voices are generally excluded from media.

Yet children are capable of understanding what is happening in the world of politics, sports, entertainment, health, and education, and can effectively voice their opinions if given the chance, MMA says.

Between November and January MMA's head of the children's programme, George Kalu, interviewed 82 primary school children between the ages of 11 and 13 about who they wanted to be South Africa's president, what they thought of media freedom, and how education could be improved, among other current news topics.

Their answers were intelligent, and surprising.

Only 2% would vote for our current president, 4% would vote for Nelson Mandela but many would vote for DA leader Helen Zille because she is a "strong woman".

The interviews were part of a project called the Children and Media Championing Best Practice, funded by the European Commission, aimed at improving the portrayal and participation of children in mainstream media.

MMA gave children who are part of the project the skills to engage with the news, analyse media content, and become what they themselves labelled 'media monitors'.

By the end of last year MMA realised that the strong opinions these children were expressing about the news had to beshared so it asked them some questions and filmed their responses.

The monitors attend Park Senior Primary School, Naturena Primary School and Troyeville Primary School in Johannesburg, and Pelican Park Primary School in Cape Town. They are mostly female.

MMA's vision is for there to be a free, fair, responsible, high-quality media that enables an engaged and informed citizenry in Africa and across the world.

The three key areas MMA seeks to address through a human rights-based approach are media freedom, media ethics and media quality.

It carries out content as well as policy research and analysis in each of the areas. It then works with media to build on strengths and address challenges in their coverage.

MMA's director, William Bird, said MMA has been working with children for ten years and has seen how they are capable of understanding what is happening in the world around them.

"Far too often children and their voices are excluded not only from national debates, but all too frequently on issues that immediately affect them," he said.

"The numerous challenges facing South Africa's education system are well known, but often children's voices on how these problems affect them are not heard".

"While children are clearly the future they are also the here and the now and should be given as much of a chance to voice their opinions as adults are." 

The Mail & Guardian will publish one of the videos filmed by MMA each week as part of a six-week long Young Voices series.

By Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007.

Source: Mail & Guardian