Children account for 39% of our population but only 12% of news stories mention them. Why should this matter? Because children, in a very real sense are our future – but also the today and now.
There are significant challenges in South Africa, and long term solutions to all of them, from child abuse, crime, unemployment and poverty – all of which require a focus on children. Without it we are simply rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Children matter for our country’s stability and sustainability, but they also matter because, with one of the best constitutions in the world, we recognise their rights to participate in matters that affect them and to have their voices heard.
Just how well do the media do when it comes to reporting on children and giving them a voice?
These were some of the core questions that MMA’s latest research aimed to answer. MMA today released its latest research on the media’s coverage of children in the news. The research forms part of a broader project, Children and the Media: Championing Best Practice; supported by the European Commission, Save the Children, SIDA, MNCRD and the Open Society Foundation.
The research reports focus on key issues relating to how children are reported, from how often they speak, to what roles they occupy and the topics of the stories in which they feature.
“There are some very positive findings, and it is clear that South African print media especially, are starting to realise that children have value not just because they are children and are part of our country, but because they make great news, and bring fresh perspectives,” said William Bird, Director of Media Monitoring Africa. He went on, “we will use these reports to highlight to media in South Africa and Zambia where they are getting things right – and there are many areas – as well as where they need to focus more attention and do things better. We are very positive that our media will continue to improve the manner in which they cover children and matters that affect them.”
Rather than simply standing on the margins, MMA is practicing what it preaches and has established a Children’s News Agency (CNA) where children and adolescents are given the necessary skills to become journalists and have their stories published in mainstream media. “Today we launched our Children’s News Agency website www.childrensnewsagency.org which seeks to ensure that not only are children’s voices heard, but that children are empowered to tell their own stories in mainstream media. Since we started last year our children have had over 20 pieces published in major South African print media,” said Ayabulela Poro, editor of the Children’s News Agency.
“Far too often we are told what to think, or what our issues are, by adults. We are often ignored and not asked for our views. As a journalist I am now able to tell stories about issues that affect the youth, from a young person’s perspective, and in so doing try to change our media,” said Annabel Fenton, child journalist and Grade 10 learner at Parktown High School for Girls.
“The Children’s News Agency has given me an opportunity to do what I am passionate about – writing and to be exposed to the exciting and exhilarating world of journalism,” added fellow schoolmate and child journalist Kiara Govender.
“In starting the Children’s News Agency we hope to make a small but significant difference not only to our media by ensuring more children’s voices are heard, but also to our country in realising children’s rights. Only then can we say we are a true democracy” Ayabulela Poro added.
The work of the Children’s News Agency will be overseen by an advisory board of child journalists as well as a mix of working journalists, academics, experts and trainers. The adult advisory board members are: Anton Harber, Paula Fray, Raymond Joseph, Mandy Rossouw, Natasha Joseph, Karabo Ngidi and Portia Kobue. At the launch, Paula Fray noted the importance of the Children’s News Agency to help media remind themselves of issues sometimes forgotten, and of questions they often forget to ask.