News coverage for children and adolescents

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Children's Perception of the Natural and Technological Disasters in Fukushima (2011)

In March 2011 the disasters in Japan – an earthquake, a tsunami and a serious accident in a nuclear power plant – dominated the news worldwide. The IZI investigated how children (five to 13 years old) perceived the disasters, how children’s television worldwide handled this subject, and what children would like to see in a children’s programme on this subject. 

In the first ten days after the earthquake, 313 children between the ages of five and 13 from across Germany were interviewed individually. The children talked about their knowledge, their emotions, and their perception of the news coverage. As well as open questions, the questionnaire contained closed, standardised questions and two creative sections in which the children could draw pictures of their perception of events in Japan and draw what they would like to see in a children’s programme on this subject. 183 children in the USA and 166 children in Brazil were interviewed using the same main questions and creative tasks.  

Smaller international comparison groups from Ecuador, Cuba and Canada were integrated into the study. Furthermore, 222 children from eight countries wrote pictoral letters to broadcasters in which they drew how they perceived the events in Japan and what they would like to have seen on television in connection with these. In addition, 98 children from ten countries explained in interviews on camera how they perceived news coverage for adults, what kind of news coverage they would like to see, and which images they would not like to see. The study was supplemented with various media analyses of news coverage in print and TV media for children and adults.

Summary of select results
International comparison of knowledge of events:
In response to the question, “Something has happened in Japan. Have you already heard about it?”, over 90 % of the children said “yes”. The children in Germany were in the lead with 98 %. The main source of information here was by far the television.
In response to the question, “What happened?”, the most frequent answer in all three countries is the tsunami, closely followed by the earthquake. There is significant variation in how often the nuclear power plant accident is mentioned: this is as present as the earthquake and the tsunami in the minds of the German children, and is mentioned twice as frequently by German as it is by US children. The Brazilian children tended to be aware of it only in exceptional cases. On the question of what an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant were, the children in Germany were better informed. For example, only just a third of those questioned in the USA demonstrated detailed knowledge about earthquakes, in Brazil it was only a fifth, but in Germany it was over half. There were significant differences in response to the question “Do you know what a nuclear power plant is?” Whereas only a third of children in the USA and Brazil feel capable of answering this question, in Germany it is more than twice as many. In the first ten to 14 days after the events, German children have more, and more detailed, knowledge in all three areas and have a more realistic appreciation of the dangers of e.g. a nuclear power plant in comparison to the children in the USA and Brazil. The reason for this could be that German children had the children’s news programme “logo!” at their disposal, which they drew on for information. This is shown by the sometimes very clear media traces of “logo!” in the drawings of the children. In none of the other countries (nor in the other 16 countries in the overall study) was there any evidence of this kind. In Brazil and the USA there are no children’s news programmess.   

What kind of news coverage do children want?
When the children are asked what they expect from children’s media, they mention three things: firstly, facts, secondly, background information, and thirdly, stories of coping with the disaster – each of these clearly separated from each other. They want facts that are not overdramatised through emotive images or words. They want background information that they understand and that answers their many questions on the contexts. And they want reports on experiences and personal stories in which those affected talk about what happened to them, but also, and above all, about how they are overcoming the difficulties. The results show that children want information, but they also want hope and perspectives – not news coverage with an emphasis on crisis. 

Children want children's news
Four to eight weeks after the events, 735 German children (six to twelve years old) in a representative sample were asked about their perception of the events and what they thought of the “logo!” news coverage. The results: Children know about the events, are concerned about them, and have questions around current developments, so they deliberately chose the children’s news programme “logo!”. They unanimously agreed that the news coverage on Japan by “logo!” was successful. In this respect, the result of the representative study is unsurprising: children want children’s news! Only 10 % of six to twelve year-olds do not want news coverage that is targeted at children.

Götz, Maya; Holler, Andrea; Nastasia, Diana; Nastasia, Sorin: “I want to know how high the wave really was". Children worldwide and their perceptions of the catastrophes in Japan in March 2011. TelevIZIon, 25/2012/E, 49-53.

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