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Opening Address to the Sixth World Summit on Media for Children and Youth

Karlstad, Sweden, June 14th 2010 

 Patricia Edgar

 The Summit movement began 15 years ago in Melbourne Australia in 1995.

Our aim was to protect and promote quality children's television programs. Technologically we have travelled light years beyond our first objectives. As well globalization has led to a focus on the international marketplace rather than national child audiences. These issues present significant challenges for the Karlstad Summit.

 Only one year after the first Summit in 1996, Google emerged.

Facebook launched in February 2004 and YouTube in 2005. Twitter, born in 2006, is the SMS of the internet.

Today more video is up-loaded to YouTube in 60 days than all three US television networks have created in 60 years. People are adding photos to Facebook at a rate of nearly 1 billion unique images a week. For young people, the games industry is as important as television.  

 Kids have embraced new technology ? its interactivity, social networking and mobility. As a result they are no longer the audience we thought we understood.  

 Research shows young people in the developed economies spend an average of 10-12 hours a day interacting with media. But they are a fragmented audience, more unpredictable and more difficult to reach than they once were.  So despite the huge global marketplace, children's media production is more competitive than it was 15 years ago.

 Kids are motivated to play, listen, create, chat, watch and respond to a constant stream of messages about everything they encounter in life. They enter the adult world before they are teens and their tastes and interests are often confronting. They view television less, when they want and how they want so the conventional television audience we used to expect is shrinking.

 Children's embrace of media is not just a western phenomenon. Kids everywhere, given access, have the same love of technology. One startling example can be seen in the work of Professor Sugata Mitra. He found - with his Hole in the Wall experiments in a remote Indian village, where he put a computer in a wall and left it - within hours an 8 year old was teaching a 6 year old to browse, and 300 kids learnt all the uses of the computer in 3 months.

Young people's immersion in media is a gift to the children's entertainment industry, but the content we are producing lacks the excitement new technology generates ? it remains predictable, heavily commercialized and often irrelevant to the needs of 21st century children.

You can't tell a public broadcaster from its commercial counterpart anymore. There is sameness in their programs and an obsession with ratings. The two major forces that have dominated children's production since television began are struggling to find their way and missing a great opportunity.

Media are now a potent educational force in children's lives. Kids are spending more time with media than in school and media are certainly teaching values to the next generation more effectively than schools.

But entertainment producers have been slow to respond to the educational challenge while they can exploit media's commercial strength. Likewise teachers are ignoring the opportunities new media present, while they argue for smaller and smaller classes - a teaching model which is unsustainable.  

A new 21st Century global vision for children's media and education policy is needed. For the Summit to be effective in leading the policy, research and production debate, we must ask some fundamental questions.

What is the responsibility of producers to the education of children?

Is good programming incompatible with making profit?

How do we maintain quality and meet the challenges of new technology?

How do we best develop an integrated cross-platform approach to children's production?

What links are there between media and creativity and how can they be used for learning? 

I believe this is a great time for content creators. There is challenge and opportunity like never before.

I believe we must insist education and entertainment be integrated within new media policy. Separating these goals has allowed the media industries to escape responsibility for children's development and education bureaucracies to ignore the potential for learning media present. Curricula on media literacy, while an important part of the mix, are not enough.

Innovation in education and in production is fundamental to progress, to economic stability and global peace. Media's role is central. The relationship between children and media has changed for ever. Surely our responsibility is greater than contributing to their amusement. This Summit provides an opportunity to explore these issues.