On behalf of the Council for the Welfare of Children, I congratulate the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board for launching this First MTRCB Child Summit on Laying the Groundwork on the Role of Media in Child Protection.
We are glad to participate in this gathering of institutions and prominent personalities who have a stake in the survival development, protection and participation of Filipino children.
Firstly, this summit allows the chance for the Council for the Welfare of Children or CWC to affirm its role as the focal government inter-agency body, that is mandated to monitor and evaluate the implementation of policies and programs for children and the enforcement of laws affecting child welfare. CWC is also the government agency that monitors the country’s compliance to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child or the CRC, which the Philippines ratified with the force of law in 1990.
The Convention recognizes the human rights of children, defined as persons below the age of 18 years. It establishes in international law that government signatories must ensure that all children—without discrimination in any form— should benefit from special protection measures and assistance; have access to services such as education and health care; can develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential; grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding; and are informed about and participate in, achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.
As a general goal and in support of the UN Convention, the CWC advocates and promotes the national vision framework on Child-Friendly Philippines: Toward a Caring and Protective Society for Filipino Children.
In our country today, persons below the age of 18 years comprise almost half (42.06 percent) of the more than 88 million Filipinos registered in the 2007 Population Census. That’s almost 40 million persons whose welfare our society must take care of.
The problems confronting Filipino children, and their impact on our society, are all too familiar to us. They are well documented and analyzed in many studies. They are also well reported in our news media.
Mass media has a potent and significant role for moral and values education, and for empowering our children to participate in national development. The support from the mass media in this effort is crucial.
Nowadays, when we speak of mass media, we also now refer not only to television, radio and newspapers, but also to the Internet, and to a growing extent to home videos, mobile phones, and new media technologies. We highlight, here, the growing complexity of the situation and challenges that we are faced with today.
Certainly, a pressing challenge that we must collectively address is the participation and depiction of children in news and entertainment programs on television - still the most pervasive media form in terms of geographic coverage and accessibility by children, at home and elsewhere.
CWC is aware that the human rights of children must be weighed in balance with the right of the society-at-large to the freedom of information, freedom of speech and artistic expression, and of free enterprise. These are all essential to the preservation of our democratic ideals and development as a nation - efforts that are inherent in the role of a free mass media.
At times, however, the practice of these freedoms result into imbalances that tend to hinder the attainment of the goals desired by all, most critically those for the most vulnerable - our children. There is need, thus, to also abide by corresponding duties and responsibilities if we are to win our common goals.
In addition to the participation and portrayal of children in mass media, CWC is concerned with the impact on children of the content of television news and entertainment programs. Likewise, CWC is also concerned with the impact on children of TV advertisements. But advertising is another challenge, and shall perhaps require another path-finding MTRCB forum.
Let us now look at a particular concern that CWC wishes to be addressed seriously at this meeting - the impressions created on children audiences of some mass media programs. This is the treatment of violence and death in some programs, both in the news and entertainment programs.
Often, violence is depicted on TV entertainment as a spectacular way to solve a problem. At times, it is even fun. This is most true in movies and animated features for children wherein violence is romanticized, and death becomes fantasy, as villains bludgeoned to death by superheroes, come to life again to sow more violence.
Often, violence is also highlighted on TV news, due to the tendency to make news more action-driven and more interesting for viewers.
Many studies on the effect of violence witnessed on TV news and entertainment point to the following: firstly, it promotes aggressive child behaviors; secondly, it leads to desensitization, making a child less sympathetic to the victims of violence and of death; and thirdly vivid depictions of real threats of violence and death, including catastrophies, cause increases in children’s fears that certainly impair their development through adulthood.
Children in their tender years must learn how to appreciate the difference between truth and reality from fiction and fantasy. We think that it is now time to consider the inclusion of media literacy and discernment starting in our early school curricula. This will make children critically aware of what they see, hear, and read as news. This will make them understand the context of the fiction and fantasy they watch as TV entertainment. We feel this capability is the basis for inculcating values, responsibility, and character for our children.
Parents also need this capability, and this we must address.
We see today’s initiative of MTRCB, therefore, as a landmark event in the efforts to create a child-friendly Philippines, a nation that is more caring of and protective of its children.
May we offer the following as recommendations? This First summit must be sustained by mainstreaming it into the program tasks and operations of MTRCB. In this regard, may we also recommend that we consider the creation of a Consultative Group on Mass Media and Child Protection with MTRCB serving as secretariat. The Consultative Group may involve sectors that are not represented in today’s event, but are also crucial in the efforts to promote child care and protection. These include parents associations, consumers groups, media watch groups, among others.
The CWC sees this MTRCB effort as vital to the widening of alliances and of establishing common grounds among all stakeholders towards common goals for children – a kind of public-private partnership for children.
We, thus, commit the support of CWC through active participation of its key staff in this Group.
A child-friendly Filipino mass media makes for a child-friendly Philippines. A child-friendly Philippines makes for an intelligent and strong audience for our mass media, and vice versa.
*Delivered at the First MTRCB Child Summit on Laying the Groundwork on the Role of Mass Media in Child Protection, at the Social Hall, Mabini Building, Malacanang Palace, Manila, April 25, 2012.