New Internationalist

Where did you say?

Issue 090

N.I. Issue No. 44: October 1976

British radio and television are reckoned to be among the best in the world. The reputation is based on highbrow documentaries that sell worldwide and offer a proven antidote to American sitcoms. Their `objectivity’ rating is high. But how do they score on presentation and coverage of development issues? Not so well according to ‘Where did you say’, a report by the UK Centre for World Development.

There is no doubt that British children are soaking it up. Five to fifteen year olds watch over 241/2 hours television a week - more than 3’/z hours a day and listen to two hours radio a week. The 16-19 year olds have other distractions, managing only 171/2 hours of TV - 21/2 hours a day - but making up for it with seven hours of Radio One, the national pop music station.

The youth are plugged in. But what do they get? The year long monitoring scheme turned a blind eye to the long evenings of glamourised violence and concentrated on schools programmes. They found only five per cent had anything to do with Third World countries. Less than two per cent dealt with subjects linked to world development.

It wasn’t all bad, but the criticisms are familiar. Too little background; excessive use of elite spokesman and technocrats; undue emphasis on disasters; continual reinforcement of primitive and exotic stereotypes. India and China are the favourite image making locations, with the rest of the Third World getting hardly a glance. Interdependence between rich and poor countries was invariably glossed over.

But the biggest shortfall is in time given to stories and people with which children can identify. ‘Such intimacy’, says the report, ‘is vital in development education if understanding of people and cultures is to go beyond stereotypes, statistics, and summaries.’ Do not adjust your sets.

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