SPEECH NOTES THE MINISTER OF BROADCASTING Hon Marian Hobbs: "CHILDREN’S RIGHTS IN THE MEDIA" FORUM, GRAND HALL,
PARLIAMENT, MONDAY, March 27, 4.30pm
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. The broadcasting sector has been having a very high profile time of
late, and the portfolio is not entirely free of delicate matters. But I must say that as Minister of Broadcasting I am
delighted by the willingness of so many people to engage with the important issues, and to share their views and
In short – I am pleased to have been given the chance to address you. As you will know, I am also opening the
Broadcasting Standards Authority’s Symposium on Children’s Broadcasting tomorrow. Consistency is perhaps an overrated
virtue, but I suspect that there may be some eyebrow raising if my position was to change spectacularly in the few hours
between now and then. Suffice to say, some of what you hear from me you will, if you are attending both events, hear
from me again tomorrow. In this forum, however, I will give you a more general sense of my own concerns, and those of
the Government. You will understand that I will do so primarily from a broadcasting perspective – but now and then,
perhaps, one of my other hats might appear momentarily on my head.
So – the title of my section is: Where to from here with respect to children’s rights in the media? – a view from the
new (- perhaps no longer very new -) Government.
Let me say firstly of radio and television, then, that they can be vital media for our own narratives and images.
Television particularly has an extraordinarily pervasive presence in our lives, conditioning for better or worse the way
we see our country, and the opinions and values we hold. It has a perhaps unparalleled capacity to provide a shared
experience, and to make minority voices heard.
But this Government considers that television’s potential as a vehicle for New Zealand content and New Zealand talent
has not been realised. The record of the last ten years, since the passing of the current Broadcasting Act, is one of
under-performance. The genres that have the greatest cultural impact and require the greatest creative input are
under-represented in our programme schedules. These genres include drama, comedy, documentary, and – and this is of
great concern to me – children’s programmes.
I hasten to say that I know that there are some excellent children’s programmes being produced in this country. There
are many little New Zealanders being creatively entertained and informed by – for example - Bumble and Suzy’s World.
At the same time, however, children are exposed to a large number of overseas-sourced programmes of variable quality. I
am not foolhardy enough to take on all 151 Pokemons simultaneously by suggesting that New Zealand children would be
better off without them altogether. In fact, I don’t want in any way to suggest that we try to close the doors on
overseas influences. During their lifetimes our children, whether we like it or not, are going to be consumers of ‘world
media’ to a considerable extent, and in ways that we can’t yet contemplate. But I do observe how television programmes
can so comprehensively capture the imagination of children. And – with all due respect to Pikachu [peek-a-chew] - I do
wonder if we might try and ensure that their imaginations are captured rather more…indigenously.
As you will know, I have been thinking also about the intensive advertising to which we subject our children. Sometimes,
of course, it is hard to tell the difference between the programming and the advertising. In any event, children are a
particularly vulnerable group of viewers –and of consumers - and I have real concerns about the way they are targetted.
I have concerns too about the way children and young people are portrayed and treated as both subjects and participants
in the media. Let me quote from the document Labour on Youth Affairs: ‘the media tend to present an overwhelming
negative picture of young people. Labour would like to see some balance by encouraging a positive media response, and
developing appropriate mechanisms for young people’.
With respect to the involvement of children in television programmes, we have had a couple of instances where the
privacy – and perhaps the dignity - of children have been compromised. They have not necessarily been accorded the
respect due to them.
So what does this collection of observations mean for Government’s position with respect to children’s rights in the
It means that in developing appropriate policy settings, and in monitoring the effectiveness of the arrangements that
are developed in the broadcasting sector, the Government will bear two things clearly in mind.
The first of these is that children are just that – children. They are a special case, not simply another demographic
category or marketing niche. They deserve our particular and specific consideration – the sort of consideration, of
course, that is being given them today and tomorrow.
It is because they are special that I have – for example - been so clear about my desire to reduce the amount of
advertising that children are exposed to, and I am grateful for the support for that stance given me by many of you here
today. I will be encouraging the Board of Television New Zealand to investigate seriously the level and spread of
advertising, beginning with the reduction of advertising around children’s programmes. But I am also aware of the
complexities inherent in the debate about the effect of advertising on children, ways of mitigating these effects, and
the role that should be played by parties other than the Government – advertisers themselves, for example - in ensuring
that children are appropriately protected.
It is also because children are children that the Government takes very seriously the need for appropriate and effective
‘standard maintenance’ regimes to be in place with respect to both the suitability of the material children watch or are
enabled and allowed to watch; and the way they are used as ‘subject matter’. I am heartened by initiatives in this field
by relevant organisations, but not complacent. As new technologies are developed and utilised, we will have to be very
sure that our ability to respond effectively on these grounds, as a society, is maximised.
As a former teacher, I strongly believe that children have the right to be educated so that they can participate
effectively in the world they live in. This does not mean that children can be educated into broadcasting consumers so
sophisticated that the onus of responsibility might shift to them. But we owe it to our children to continue to ensure
that as part of their learning they acquire the different literacies – including ‘media literacies’ - that they will
need in their futures.
In our future, then, Government will remember that children are children! But Government will also actively recognise
that children are citizens.
I understand that today you may have given some attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,
and to the issue of profitability versus social responsibility. I would like to make the point that this Government
distinguishes between children as consumers and children as citizens.
I consider that one of the obligations owed citizens by Government is a cultural one. Governments have a role in
facilitating the development of a nation’s cultural identity; and in supporting key components and manifestations of
that identity. One of these is broadcasting.
As citizens, children have the right to expect that they are involved in the processes whereby our identity as a society
and a country is developed. And as a citizen, each child has the right to expect that his or her own tastes and
interests are taken seriously. Children are not a single homogeneous group, who can be lumped together for programming
purposes – no more than you and I would find it reasonable if this were to happen with adults. But the fact that I would
generally choose to listen to Kim Hill as opposed to – oh – Radio Non-stop Heavy Metal Hits of the 80s, does not mean
that I cannot acknowledge the rights of other listeners to have their tastes catered for as part of our broadcasting
What I am saying, then, is that we must not take a simplistic approach to children’s broadcasting that focuses only on
the number of Kiwi-produced minutes. We need to think very hard about the quality and range of what we produce, and the
platform for New Zealand’s cultural development that we build for ourselves through doing so.
I’m certainly thinking about these things. I have established an officials group – led by the Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet – to look at a number of issues related to public broadcasting, including the range of possible
mechanisms that might be used to increase local content. Their investigations will take place over the next few months.
The Government is committed to taking action in this area. Like you, we know how much depends on getting it right.