Our roundup of a much needed project to shed light on the challenges and opportunities of content provision for children confronted with the realities of forced migration.

Last Friday, European and Middle Eastern practitioners, producers, public broadcast representatives, academics, children’s media experts and the PMA gathered at King’s College London to discuss children’s content provision, with a focus on diversity and migration.

The symposium – organised by Professor Jeanette Steemers, Professor Naomi Sakr, and Dr Christine Singer – was the culmination of a year-long project that sought to explore and create international dialogue on these matters. The project’s findings were summarised in the final report to stakeholders and the several project reports, which can be found at the bottom of this page. 

Both practitioners and research conducted by Childwise show that children are becoming increasingly concerned about current affairs, and are more worried about conflict than anything else, especially in the UK.  Yet, they lack content that effectively explains that reality to them.

At the same time, there is a major need for children to see themselves on screen and have content that is specifically made for them.  So what do we need to provide better content for children?

For many participants a key question was “how do we get kids to discover kids like them?” in the quest for creating content that has an authentic voice. It was decided that the crucial step would be to find the universal nature of these stories – the real link between characters and audiences – to create a meaningful connection.

What about diversity and migration?

Yet such a connection cannot be established without the necessary support. The research and workshops conducted throughout this year have stressed how hard it is to secure funding for children’s content, particularly for that which focuses on refugees, diversity and forced migration.

Most shows for children that specifically target migration come from the UK and Germany, countries that have a strong public broadcasting sector and tradition, whereas very few are produced by commercial outlets.  This highlights PSM’s unique mandate to serve and provide content for children across different communities and, at the same time, the severe lack of resources available to provide a variety of content for children.

However, a wider understanding and knowledge of Arab culture is missing, even when refugees and characters who speak regional languages are subjects of European content. This lack of knowledge often paves the way for contrived representations of helpless refugees, rescued by white characters’ kindness, often the main protagonist.

Nonetheless, the picture is not entirely negative. At the workshops and symposiums, producers and participants presented some of the best practices and content available on these issues, such as German public broadcaster ZDF’s Berlin und Wir (Berlin and Us), an award winning German series that portrays refugee children in Europe in a positive way. Other examples included the CBBC pre-school series Where in the World?, Apple Tree House, and ZDF’s JoNaLu.

Representing diversity

The representation of diversity is also a significant issue as content about forced migration is often portrayed through the lense of adults perspectives, with little or no inclusion of children’s views.  Ultimately, it is fundamentally important to give children a say and include them in the production stage if we want good quality children’s content. DR Ultra – Denmark’s PSB channel for kids – does involve children and young people in their production stages, in order to create a community that has elements of collaboration and co-creation.

In addition, there is a strong need to strike a balance between education and entertainment, deal better with trauma and avoid aspects such as tokenism and victimhood. In France, for example, fiction dominates children’s TV. Public TV channels have very few educational or factual programmes for children, and the representation of diversity never goes beyond showing characters with different names or skin tones.

But, as producers and participants in the workshop highlighted, diversity does not need to be the main storyline and can be shown and included in any kind of content without it being explicitly named or shown.

Public broadcasters move online

As young audiences move online, consume more digital content and spend more time on screens away from linear TV, especially in the UK,  public broadcasters are working to up their content provision on alternative platforms.

This year, France’s PSB channel for kids, France 4 announced it will move away from DTT broadcasts  to go fully online. The same will happen to DR Ultra, which will only broadcast online from 2020. This is partly due to the need to produce content at a lower cost, while  also following audience trends.

Other public broadcasters are joining this trend and beginning to embrace the potential online platforms can offer.

This week, CBC Canada launched Kids News, a digital-first platform that will provide news for children with the aim of strengthening media literacy and empowering youth to better understand and engage with the world around them. In Germany, ZDF launched a children’s channel on Amazon Prime Video, ZDFtivi aimed at pre-school and primary school children as well as young teenagers.

Need for better research and content

As children move towards these platforms, it is fundamental to ensure there is content that not only represents them and the world around them, but also enables them to navigate the different realities they will have to deal with and prepare them for it.

For Denmark’s public broadcaster DR, for example, the main aim is to “qualify” children so that they can take part in a democratic debate, teach them about Danish values and equip them to speak about and deal with everyday dilemmas.

PMA’s CEO, Sally-Ann Wilson, stressed the need to work together and proposed the creation of an action plan to translate ideas into practices and as a way to enhance greater collaboration across professionals and disciplines and initiatives such as co-production workshops.

Therefore, we need better content but also better research that can show us how children are actually engaging with the platform they are using, what content they like to watch and what content they would like to see in order to better understand and fulfill their needs.

The symposium, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) also presented the findings from the three workshops held last year and this year. To access and download the three workshop reports, click on the links below:

And here is the final project report:

For more details on the programme and the event, head over to the project website.