It started with an unveiling and ended with a shelving. The inaugural World Summit on Television & Children March 13-17 failed to produce a much-heralded charter on children and television but did allow some of the world’s top children’s TV executives to network and exchange sometimes heated views.
Before the summit Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) director and summit organizer Patricia Edgar said the gathering would result in a historic international charter protecting the rights of children to participate in a society’s cultural life through television.
Unveiled by the BBC’s head of children’s programs, Anna Home, the draft charter urged the making of quality programs which do not exploit children; programming in accessible slots with wide-ranging content and genre; and sufficient funding to make programs of the highest standard, among other things.
But by the end of the conference, Home said the document was being sent back to the drawing board for a redraft by a London-based committee with six to 10 global representatives.
“I am asking everyone to go home, consult with their organizations and then I am happy to convene a drafting committee in the next couple of months. The expanded charter will contain provisions relating to sex, violence and the protection of individual cultures and will be longer than the original charter,” Home said, refusing to be drawn further.
“It is important to get it right,” Home added, while admitting it was too early to say when it will be ratified.
Not all delegates were upset at the stalling of the charter. Many emphasized that the networking of 600 high-powered TV executives from around the world , chiefly from the U.S., U.K., Australia and Europe , was a good thing in and of itself.
Fox Children’s Network president Margaret Loesch, meanwhile, said that Fox had commissioned the government-backed producer and distribber Film Australia (FA) and QED Communications to produce a second 26-part series of preschool program Johnson & Friends.
Loesch told Variety this would be the first of many projects from Down Under to air on her web let.
Arguably one of the best speakers at the gabfest was Nickelodeon president Geraldine Laybourne, who managed to win the respect of a suspicious gathering – owing to criticism of Nickelodeon’s pay TV joint venture with Oz pubcaster ABC.
Edgar’s widely reported criticisms of the partnership had alleged the arrival of Nick represented a threat to local producers and heralded the arrival of “McDonald’s TV.”
In a well-received speech, Laybourne called on public and commercial channels to abandon old divisions and invent new models of co-operation in joint productions and co-ventures.
She also lashed out at the U.S. House Republicans’ attempts to cut funding for PBS in the States, criticizing opportunistic politicians for seeking to gut the relentless ally of children.
“At Nickelodeon, we feel a great kinship with public television, we are a pro-social service. Initially, our programming came largely from public broadcasters around the world. I am the biggest advocate of funding for public broadcasting: it is disgraceful how little money we give to educational programming,” Laybourne added.
Despite Laybourne’s call for more partnerships between U.S. and foreign producers/broadcasters, American programs were identified in several sessions as the main culprit in exposing children to violent images.
But U.S. delegates appeared largely unmoved and the constant charges of “cultural imperialism” by the U.S. Many senior executives in the audience were anxious to contribute to the discussions but were barred from doing so by organizers, resulting one day in a walkout by 40 delegates.
Edgar said a conscious decision had been taken not to allow audience participation, fearing things would “get too heated.”