Nets agree that Unicef issues merit ongoing attention

There is a Creole term Restavek, meaning to stay with. In Haiti, it equates to child labor-poor children working in other people's homes 'doing all the dirty jobs that nobody else wants to do,' explains Stephane Turcotte, director of TV, youth...
December 1, 2000

There is a Creole term Restavek, meaning to stay with. In Haiti, it equates to child labor-poor children working in other people’s homes ‘doing all the dirty jobs that nobody else wants to do,’ explains Stephane Turcotte, director of TV, youth and family programs for Radio-Canada. ‘[This practice is] allowed in Haiti, which is one of the things Unicef is trying to fight and get rid of there.’

Because of circumstances like these, every year since 1992, a day has been set aside for kids all over the world to recognize their rights and achievements. Held the second week in December, broadcasters and radio stations in over 170 countries will be dedicating air time to salute kids, bring attention to important children’s issues, and shed light on violations of children’s rights. Usually consulting Unicef’s Convention of the Rights of the Child, broadcasters produce original programming and invite kids to participate in Unicef’s International Children’s Day of Broadcasting.

Bill Hetzer, chief of the Internet, broadcast and image section, a communication division for Unicef in New York, says the ICDB has grown over the years from about 300 radio and television stations participating, to last year’s estimate of about 2,000. This year’s ICDB is significant because the theme challenges world leaders to put children’s issues at the forefront of their work, a great segue to next September’s World Summit 2001, an assembly in New York at the U.N. where many Heads of State are expected to discuss children’s issues. Hetzer says: ‘The goals set at this summit will be the goals for the next 30 years.’

Each year, networks send in their programming for consideration for the Unicef International Emmy Award. TV Cultura in Brazil has been recognized and awarded the Emmy for the last two years, turning out as much as 90% original productions for a 20-hour programming day. The net has been nominated again this year along with Canal Capital from Colombia and ZDF in Germany.

Teresa Otondo, head of international relations at TV Cultura, says the day is a national event in Brazil, with almost all the educational and regional public broadcasters participating. Otondo adds that the ICDB is of the utmost import for TV Cultura because children are its privileged audience, and the caster has a responsibility to set examples to other channels to provide quality programs for kids, ‘especially in a country like Brazil that has huge inequalities.’

This year, programming director Walter Silvera says TV Cultura is again dedicating the whole day, concentrating on ‘new approaches to give children access to the airwaves.’ Kids are real protagonists in the productions and have the opportunity to challenge things, ask questions and have their say. The broadcaster is concentrating on a show called Vitrine, which highlights what is going on in media, communication and information technology. Actors from popular TV Cultura series team up with children (along with puppets from the show Cocorico), invade the Vitrine studio, and use the available technology to run the show their way, dedicating it to kids across Brazil. Marcelo Tass, the host of the show, will discover the invasion while watching TV at home. He’ll try to get his program back, but the invading team will force negotiations and highlight the importance of the ICDB.

In Canada, youth net YTV is participating in the ICDB with a main theme of ‘Children of War.’ Melanie York, supervising producer for YTV dayparts, says that this year’s theme is very timely and important. ‘War is no longer fought on battlegrounds, it’s now in children’s backyards,’ York says, ‘so the issue has really come home for everybody.’ YTV will dedicate about 15 hours to the ICDB, a combination of original and regular scheduled programs with new interstitials featuring kids. For at least a week prior to and following the broadcast day, a web component will contain kids stories, opinions, contests and videos ‘because sometimes a day is just not enough,’ York says.

In Finland, YLE’s head of children’s and youth programming Airi Vilhunen also sees the ICDB as an opportunity to give more time to kids programming. This year, YLE has four hours of original programming, including a drama hour with a Finnish children’s writer and documentaries such as We Dream of Happiness, which is based on a true story of a Somali girl and an Estonian boy who immigrated to Finland. The director has been following their stories for almost a year, documenting their separate experiences.

‘The main purpose is to give kids a voice,’ Vilhunen says. ‘It’s important to raise children’s issues, and not just one day a year.’

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