WHAT IS THE MEANING OF A SUMMIT TAKING PLACE IN LATIN AMERICA FOR THE FIRST TIME?
Interview with Patricia Edgar for Multi Rio, Rio de Janeiro, November 2002
A Summit is an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and mark a new beginning. It provides an opportunity to rally all those with strong interests in children's media to work together to create a climate and opportunities to ensure the production of programs for children that are engaging but meaningful for them. Holding this Summit in Latin America signals to your Governments that you are very serious about this issue; that you are ready and willing to work together across regions and nation States. It also signals to the dominant Western Producers that you are not simply a compliant marketplace for imported programs but that you intend to produce for your own children and ultimately take your place in the international marketplace and produce a share of global product. A Summit gives significant impetus to your cause, it raises the profile of the issue in the media, and increases the level of determination necessary to achieve the objectives of the Summit Movement.
One of these objectives is to increase the critical awareness of children towards the media and as you plan to have a large number of teachers participating in the Summit, their involvement with the issues would hopefully lead to changes in the curriculum to further this aim. The Summit will highlight for teachers and producers just what they need to work towards if productions for children in Latin America are to be improved.
WHAT KIND OF BENEFITS DO YOU THINK THE RIO SUMMIT 2004 WILL BRING? DOES LATIN AMERICA HAVE ENOUGH STRENGTH TO LEAD IMPORTANT CHANGES?
The Rio Summit will set the stage for the future. It will create an environment where it will be possible to advance the cause of children's media. In the end it comes down to the leaders of the movement and the participants believing they can accomplish whatever is necessary. I have no doubt you already have people in place with the will and the know how to do this.
Latin America is home to a huge population and that population is young. In the West the population is aging, the figures are staggeringly different. That is the basis of the power of your argument for resources and support from Government from business and from the media organisations in Latin America. Your young people should not be served with media programs from foreign cultures alone. Buying cultural or media products is not the same as buying shoes or fruit or cars. Cultural products impact on the mind and they reflect the values of the culture that creates them. Latin America certainly has the strength to lead the changes. That means you have the individuals with the will to work for what they believe in, the artists to tell the stories children want and need to hear, and the politicians who will respond-- who will recognise the importance of the self esteem of their young people who need to participate in their own futures.
A major difficulty that you will face is the argument about priorities. Why worry about media programs for young people when health and housing needs, education and welfare generally are so much more pressing? They are pressing, and they are fundamental, however education in the end is the only way to move forward and to overcome serious social inequalities and issues. And today media are an integral part of that education process. Indeed when formal education is lacking, the all pervasive media are even more influential in instilling values. It is to ensure the values and images conveyed through media programs, which can be so potent with young people, are values that are congruent with the social and cultural objectives of the society in which they live that children's and young peoples' programs cannot be neglected. Every culture must tell it's own stories to its children or the culture dies, and it will die if it is to rely on the stories of other cultures to initiate its young people into our global world.
What does it matter if all the children's stories were to originate in Los Angeles? We would lose our diversity our complexity our richness as human beings. More importantly the life style and the behaviour of the inhabitants of Los Angeles are not relevant to those of most of your Latin American children.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFICULTIES YOU HAVE FOUND IN CHANGING THE MENTALITY OF POLITICIANS ABOUT ISSUES YOU CONSIDER ESSENTIAL?
In the 20 years I spent as Director of the Australian Children's Television Foundation I reported to more than 80 State and Federal Arts Ministers who were responsible for the funding of the Foundation and their reactions varied from an extreme of open hostility and a belief that it was a waste of money (fortunately there were not many of them )to great enthusiasm for the work of the Foundation. Generally speaking it was the younger Ministers with children of their own who were the most supportive. I always made a point of researching the ages of their children and sending tapes of our programs when ages were appropriate for the programs. There is strong lobbying potential in the support from family members who are the consumers of our productions. Politicians are very busy people with many demands on their time, and viewing children's programs will not be high on their list of priorities . You need to have the ear of others who are close to them. Politicians wives are important and they will have children or grand children. It is important to work with people from all sides of the political spectrum so that the issues the Summit addresses are not seen as the concerns of a single party. On the Board of the ACTF I ensured that there were influential people who could open doors, representatives from all sides of politics, men and women who could not be ignored by senior politicians. Every politician will have people they will listen to so you need to do your homework and track them down. Lobbying is central to this task.
MOST PEOPLE CAN SAY WHAT'S BAD ABOUT TELEVISION, BUT RARELY CAN IDENTIFY QUALITY. HOW WOULD YOU IDENTIFY QUALITY ON TELEVISION FOR CHILDREN?
Technically the media are neutral whether it be radio, television or computers we are dealing with. Each is a wonderful medium and can convey powerful, creative, enriching programs which have the potential to develop and educate young people. Unfortunately the predominant financing model for programming around the world is commercial and the media are used to sell products and fuel the economies of countries, even more so with global media markets. This objective is seen as far more important than developing quality programs. Programming for children and young people is now very much driven by merchandising. Even a broadcaster with the traditions of the BBC is no longer immune, and programs like Teletubbies and the Tweenies have been developed to fit the money making model. The tail wags the dog and the audience is exploited for commercial ends. The prime purpose is not simply to teach and enrich the audience but also, and often primarily, to make money. The approach is justified by the argument that the means justify the end, the program gets made and children have something to watch that is made for them, even though at the same time the program is serving as an advertisement.
Quality can be elusive. It certainly does not necessarily correlate with money spent. For a program to be a quality program I would say the idea for the program must have integrity. It should come from the needs of the children. As you say very eloquently in your questions to me, understanding the inner world of children is an important step in creating TV programs that can reach and touch them deeply. Programs should engage them but they should never suspect they have an educational purpose, so they should not be overtly didactic. Young viewers should be stimulated to reflect from the experience of viewing a quality program. A good story is crucial, children love drama but it needs to be authentic. They want to identify with the characters and to learn about life experiences. They do not like to be patronised and preached to. Good programming will reflect life as they know it. Program makers debate the issue of quality but the good producers know it when the see it. Often the debate is about what it is that we should show children and what we should hold back. Sometimes this is a cultural question. This topic is certainly an important one for discussion at the Summit.
YOU DEDICATED A WHOLE LIFE TO BRING SIGNIFICANT IDEAS TO REALITY FOR THIS AUDIENCE AT THE AUSTRALIAN CHILDREN'S TELEVISION FOUNDATION. CAN YOU DESCRIBE A REMARKABLE EXPERIENCE AT ACTF?
Nothing beats watching children view a program that I have been responsible for, and actually observing the body language and the impact when they are very involved and enjoying what they are seeing on the screen. That's pretty remarkable. That is worth fighting for.
And it is always a remarkable experience for me to see an idea evolve from a simple concept to a full blown program and to see the layers that are added by each creative person as they make their contribution to the whole program. Film and television are truly collaborative arts and I found that with many of the talented people in Australia who worked for the Foundation they took pride in what they did because they were working for children and for a cause.
Next to that, winning the Emmy for an Australian children's drama, only the second Australian Emmy ever won by an Australian production team, was significant for the status of the Foundation and the industry. It helped me to move the agenda forward and to raise more money for the cause. Politicians in particular like to see tangible results and awards are one measure of results.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO MEDIA PROFESSIONALS WHO ARE INTERESTED IN PRODUCING GOOD TV PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH? WHAT CHALLENGES ARE THEY GOING TO FACE?
The challenges are many. Remaining determined in the face of indifference is essential. Hearing the word 'no', but persisting until you hear the word 'yes', is important. You have to be a lobbyist as well as a program maker. You need to be able to remember what it was like to be a child. Even though the world has changed significantly, children and young people still go on the same emotional journey on the road to adulthood. You need to understand their world if you are to be relevant and successful. If you don't love the work, don't do it. There are easier ways to make a living.