Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

A Response to "The Cultural Opportunity of Children's Tv: Public Policies in Digital Television"

Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

A Response to "The Cultural Opportunity of Children's Tv: Public Policies in Digital Television"

Article excerpt

The political and cultural opportunities of children's TV are without any doubt an important topic to look further into within media studies but, as much as I welcome Valerio Fuenzalida's argumentation, I also find it to be a rather problematic one in our understanding of media usage and practices. In my response to the paper at hand I hope to make the relationship between media and the young audience a more complicated one, placing it in the context of everyday life and thus moving away from media-centrism. I will point out from my perspective--inspired by media anthropology and media ethnography--the missing links that, in my view, need to be added and reflected upon in any discussion on children, media, and social change.

A. Television and social change

In his paper Fuenzalida places the production and consumption of children's TV within the discourse of social change, having a strong belief in the role of media to become a driving force for social transformation in today's society (cf. Castells, 1996) with a specific concern for children in Latin America. "... today digital-audiovisual technologies can help--through visionary public policies--to create a humanistic and citizenship culture, one of cooperation, tolerance, entrepreneurship, equity, and solidarity" (p. 15). Thus, the transformational effects of educational children's programming (combating poverty and promoting equity) are brought to the fore as a valuable socio-cultural opportunity in addition to formal schooling. The discussions on how new technologies may be a vital link to strengthen democracy is not something new, which is also pointed out by Fuenzalida. Similar ways of reasoning as above could, for example, be seen in the '80s by Barber (1984) on the capabilities of cable television across America: "The capabilities of new technology can be used to strengthen civic education, guarantee equal access to information, and tie individuals and institutions into networks that will make real participatory discussion and debate possible across great distances" (p. 274).

Thoughts about children's television being a helping means to bridging the "the knowledge gap" in society could already be seen in the '60s and '70s (Rydin, 1996, p. 16). The reasoning of Fuenzalida and Barber can be compared with the optimistic thoughts of Tapscott in the late '90s on children's usage of digital media: becoming tools for empowerment and liberation. All statements above are embedded in the paradigm of technological determinism (cf. McLuhan, 1964) where technology is seen to fundamentally change not only our ways of living but also offer changes in terms of values and norms, which in turn has implications on how we perceive ourselves and others. By being involved with electronic and digital media young people are seen as gaining more knowledge compared to their parents, teachers, and other elders, which in turn may have consequences for educational and democratic participation (cf. Tapscott, 1998). Researchers like Postman, on the one hand, point out the "death of childhood," as the dividing line between childhood and adulthood has become blurred due to electronic media. Postman and those who follow him perceive media as powerful and influencing children in a negative way:

The new media environment that is emerging provides everyone, simultaneously, with the same information. Given the conditions I have described, electric media find it impossible to withhold any secrets. Without secrets, of course, there can be no such thing as childhood. (Postman, 1983, p. 80)

The abovementioned lines of thought exemplify two opposite standpoints concerning the role of media among children but both apply a technology-led theory of social change. These contrasting positions, however, have been criticized for their essentialist perception of childhood (conceived as either innocent/vulnerable or as media literate), of media, and of the deterministic view on the relation between them (Buckingham, 2000). …

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