Special Report ­ UNICEF International Children’s Day of Broadcasting: Kids run the show at TVO

Adrian Mills, creative head, children's and youth programming, TVO, Canada...
December 1, 1996

Adrian Mills, creative head, children’s and youth programming, TVO, Canada

The first International Children’s Day of Broadcasting (ICDB) took place in December 1992. The day was the brainchild of the late James P. Grant, who was the executive director of UNICEF. Grant’s commitment to the developmental, social, economic and political rights of children remains at the heart of ICDB.

I take it as axiomatic that while we may approach the issue of children’s rights from different perspectives, most of us who work in children’s television share a commitment to children. At the 1995 World Summit on Children and Television held in Melbourne, Australia, this commitment took the form of the Children’s Charter a set of guiding principles in children’s television designed to ensure the provision of programs for children in an era of tremendous change in the telecommunications environment.

For me, ICDB’s outstanding success is that it has become the one day in the year when we as broadcasters and producers can put our programming specifically within the context of the Children’s Charter. It enables us to do what we do best: provide stimulating, educational and entertaining programs for children while showcasing for our public, peers and executives the role of children’s television and the power it can have beyond the TV screen.

This all sounds commendably worthy and sincere, but to a child, it is all very abstract. How d’es ICDB translate into something that kids actually understand and into programs they want to watch?

I am often struck by the number of people in the children’s television industry who claim to know all about kids: their needs, their likes, their dislikes, what is good for them, what they should or shouldn’t be watching, what effects this or that will have on them. For an industry that often claims to ‘give children a voice in the world,’ we still offer few examples in which they have anything more than a cosmetic say in the programming that is designed for them.

At TVO, ICDB is all about children participating in the running of the network. For one day each year, we turn over 12 hours of our airwaves to kids themselves. Starting off modestly, we asked children to vote on how the day should be scheduled. (Professional schedulers beware this day has since become one of the highest-rated Sundays for children’s shows on our network!) Then we brought kids into our studios and taught them how to research, write, produce and direct programs some of them live. And of course, the day was co-hosted by children. Kids watching at home could participate too, by sending in pictures, stories, p’ems or songs; they could interact by phone, fax or e-mail.

As one of the producers said, children love to participate, they just have to be asked. It is this kind of interactivity that we value at TVO. For us, interactivity isn’t about pushing buttons or double-clicking, but engaging children in intelligent debate, listening to them and respecting them enough to be prepared to make changes as a result.

This year, we are focusing on the role of children in reducing the violence in their lives and their communities anything they can do to ‘increase the peace.’ We will be profiling individual children and groups of children around Ontario who are involved in community programs dealing with the issues surrounding violence. With this grounding firmly in place, we will widen the debate to include children in other parts of the world who are dealing with similar or different kinds of violence in their own lives.

ICDB is for us the one day in the year when we can achieve more than just the broadcasting of children’s programs. We can reach out into the community, speak to kids, parents, teachers and adult decision-makers. On top of that, we can command high viewing figures and good press coverage and provide our executives with enough ‘Brownie points’ to keep them going for months. We urge you to join the large number of broadcasters around the world in celebrating ICDB. It’s good for everyone.

TVO is a public broadcaster with a specific educational mandate. The network broadcasts nine hours per day of educational, noncommercial and violence-free programming for children of all ages, and enjoys an average 25 percent audience share. This year, TVO has received a Special Achievement Award from the Alliance for Children and Television, and for the second year running, TVO was a finalist for the International Council/UNICEF Award for its performance on the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting 1995. This was awarded at the International Emmy Awards Gala on November 25.

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