There is very little stuff for children in media. Producers, journalists and intellectuals come up with ideas on what to do about it

Missing children
Photo by Naseem ur Rehman

We say children are our priority, but there is hardly any programme for them in media. “Programmes for children are missing from electronic media in Pakistan. All programmes are for women — not for youth, not for men,” observes senior artist Samina Ahmad, Chairperson of Producers Association.

What is being shown for children on television? The first that come to mind are Chhota Bheem, Doremon and CID. Try to recall a local programme for children, the last that I remember was Ainak Wala Jinn. In the 70s and 80s, it was Kalian and Kalion Key Mala. Today, it is hard to name one.

At a National Children’s Media Conference organised by Little Art in Lahore in collaboration with Deutche Welle (DW) Akademie last month, senior producers from across the country cited several reasons for shortage of children’s programmes on local channels; a) we don’t see children as consumer market so there is little ad with programmes for them, b) there is no publicity budget, c) children’s programmes are effort intensive so they are avoided by TV channels, d) there is lack of people who can design well-researched content, e) resources for research are also not there, f) children’s programmes don’t get audience, the reason why they don’t get TRPs (Television Rating Points — a tool to judge which programmes are viewed the most), g) Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) doesn’t have any rule that would bind the TV channels to show children’s programmes.

It appears that there is no money for children’s programmes but Tasawarul Karim of Geo TV says, “The problem is with structuring things. Money is not the problem.”

Samina Ahmad points out that those writing for children are paid Rs5,000 only for a script while TV producer Saji Gul says children less than 12-year-old are paid half rate of what an adult actor is paid and an actor less than 7-year-old is paid one fourth. In television channels those working for children are not taken seriously, hence their programmes are also not taken seriously.

There is need to develop stories with local characters. Qabacha and Jibran are missing. Qabacha was a young man with a child alive in him. Direct Hawaldar in PTV was a local character with whom people could relate. Commander Safeguard imitates superman while programmes like Burqa Avengers do not gain popularity though they get awards and are then stopped because they appear to be foreign-funded. Then there are programmes which the children host on TV that do not have the desired impact because they pose as adults. We become moralistic very easily.

Safeguard is financing children’s programmes but they have their own agenda. Commander Safeguard increased Safeguard brand sale by 40 per cent. It was in regional languages and people liked it. Producers see the muscle to move out as the biggest challenge — that is reaching out to rural areas.

Characters like Uncle Sargam, Hud Haram, Maasi Mosibtae and Noni Pa became household names in the 70s and live to this day with those who grew up watching Kalian. There is not one morning show like Mustansar Husain Tarar’s that would engage children. Pakistan has known only one local TV channel Wikkid that was closed after a short while. Little Art keeps asking people ‘what to see’ under hashtag#KiaLagaoon? Today, children are watching Cartoon Network, Pogo and programmes made in India or Japan.

Coming to gender roles, we are still Arabs. On TV we are conventional; girls are shown making round roti, Teem is given to boys to drink. We have difficulty being ourselves; we make a duck yellow but where is duck yellow in this region? Roof of a house is always slanting but where do we have that here?

Where 90 per cent of the programme content should be local, the opposite is going on.

All the above observations are made by people who are TV, web or film producers. They were Samina Ahmad, Saji Gul, Raheel Waqar, Shoaib Iqbal, Tasawarul Karim Baig and Shamsul Haq.

Creating meaningful content is important anyway but it becomes all the more important in children’s programming as they are very impressionable. An HR manager from a public limited company gave a presentation of a survey on children watching TV. It showed that the core audience of Cartoon Network watched in over 80 million homes in the US alone is between 6-11 year olds. In the same survey, 93 per cent teachers said children apply things learned from media in their classroom.

Shoaib Iqbal of Little Art that holds Children’s Film Festival in Lahore every year and has reached out to one lakh children in Pakistan in the last five years, says a whole generation has grown up here without experiencing art which is a universal language. “There is disregard for art. It has been put in non-useful category. We need to encourage and develop imagination through arts.” He views binary thinking which means ‘if I am right, you are wrong’ as the biggest problem in Pakistan.

What can be done

Pemra should create rules to make room for children’s programmes on television. There is a clause on specific subject area in Pemra rules book; may be children’s programmes can be inserted here. They should be shown between 7:00 am and 10:00 pm. A suggestion is to adopt the framework in the west.

As a channel for children cannot be foreign-funded according to Pemra rules, it becomes all the more necessary to bind regular channels to mark time slot for children. Pakistan Broadcasting Association is more in a position to make time for children’s programmes than anyone else. Advertisers can also be quite helpful here.

People can also write to Pemra for children’s programmes. Target of advocacy should be government. “Lobbying is a lengthy process and then you have to play on so many levels, but it is worth it. It needs commitment,” says Samina Ahmad.

Finances pose a big question. Fee for children’s channel is Rs5 lakh. A 3-5 minute programme for pre-schoolers up to five years whose attention span is short, animation is the thing and animation is the most expensive form of creating anything. For 5-11 year olds, there should be 15-25 minutes segment. Two to five lakh rupees are needed for a programme in each segment. Daily six hour programming requires Rs 18-20 lakh. India has a bank that finances films. There was a suggestion in the conference that we too can make a bank.

There is need to develop writers for children. Raheel Waqar of Alif Ailan suggests need for children content fund like Universal Service Fund Pakistan. Children and teenagers are a big market. Another suggestion is to go for content partnerships that can feed into the existing network.

Shoaib Iqbal of Little Art informs that producers have started sharing resources so networking is rewarding. Shoaib and his friends started by pooling Rs10,000 each and gave Rs50,000 to students along with equipment to make a film. Before this there were no films from children from Pakistan, he says. Child Art received 18 films in 2014. In college thesis they make 20-25 minute films.

Children’s programme goes through an evolutionary process. A panel of critics evaluates every episode and every time makes improvements in the next episode. Universities can be very good nurseries for developing children’s content, says Prof Dr. Mugheesuddin Sheikh, Director Institute of Communication Studies Punjab University. He informs that 30 per cent of media students are going in journalism.

Many ideas came up in the children’s media conference about what to do. One is to engage celebrities to read out to children to attract viewers. USAID is investing Rs110 million in the reading programme alone.

There is a South Asian Children’s Forum — a briefcase of films for children in South Asia. It is important to understand formats — new ways of attracting people — exposing content creators to new technologies.

Another idea is to hold inter-school and inter-college film-making competitions which could be only of one-minute — uploaded on Apps.

Radio and newspapers are doing their bit but there is scope for doing far more in these mediums as well.

Deutche Welle (DW) Akademie has trained a team of a radio channel based in Islamabad which is doing programmes for children on science.

Trainers from the DW, director and editor of a science show in Germany which has one million viewers were there in Lahore. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The programmes are there, we can adopt them.

Originally Published by The News on Sunday

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