Translating the right to expression into a reality
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Once upon a time one needed significant means and resources to start a newspaper or a radio station; to reach large numbers of people with a message. The Internet changed this, but up until quite recently it was still necessary for a person to have technical knowledge, resources and access to the right technology in order to, for example, develop a website to share information and connect with others online.
The explosion of the social web in the last few years has lowered the barrier to entry exponentially and the mobile phone is increasingly becoming a one-stop publishing and broadcast tool. Features such as photo and video cameras allow for the visual capture of events or happenings, while mobile friendly applications are making it easy to upload and share opinion pieces, news and media products to one’s own network or to the wider public in minutes.
All of this is important to consider in the context of child- and youth-produced media. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises the importance of engaging children and young people as active participants in media creation, and it would seem that with the proliferation of digital tools in the hands of young people, it is becoming easier for young people to tell their stories.
While all of this is true – and the changing digital landscape represents unprecedented opportunity – it does not reveal the entire picture. If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? It is a question you’ve probably heard before, especially in relation to the internet, and the reality remains that only a tiny percentage of all the media content that is uploaded to the Internet is ever seen by more than a handful of eyes. How strong then is ones message if no one hears it? And what implications does this have for youth media makers?
Last week I was part of a dialogue with award-winning young filmmakers representing 10 countries who were in New York for the PLURAL+ video festival awards ceremony. Organised by the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), PLURAL+ is a youth-produced video festival which encourages young people to explore migration, diversity and social inclusion, and to share their creative vision with the world.
The dialogue was an opportunity for the filmmakers to come together and to share thoughts on their experiences of creating their films, and the challenges facing young media makers. They represent a diversity of countries and contexts for youth media creation: there’s 8-year-old Lisa from Toulouse, France whose city organizes an annual children’s film festival in the style of Cannes; Shruti from India, whose school is integrating ICTs into all fields of teaching and learning; Francois from Nairobi, Kenya, who has taken it upon himself to try motivate young people through music in his impoverished community; and the Manawan indigenous community youth working with Wapikoni Mobile from Quebec in Canada.
Access to equipment was a challenge for many. I was so surprised (but then again perhaps I should not have been) that even the young people from so-called industrialised countries recounted difficulty in accessing equipment. Improvisation and creativity are necessary skills for young filmmakers – the team from Lebanon, whose film focuses on Syrian refugees in their country – spoke of having to use books in place of a camera stand. Wapikoni Mobile seeks to overcome this challenge by taking media production facilities directly to the indigenous youth they work with – many of whom live in remote areas.
A lack of support or perhaps rather a not-unkind lack of interest from schools or even families was something else that came across. A few of the young filmmakers joked that some of those close to them did not really understand why they had chosen to get involved and did not really believe that they had a chance at winning.
Yet these young people still represent the lucky ones – those with access to an initiative like PLURAL+ which not only promotes and recognizes the talent of young filmmakers promoting social messages, but also supports the distribution of their final products. And this is of crucial importance if there is genuine commitment to lifting up and listening to the voices of young people.
The consensus from the young filmmakers was clear – more needs to be done to create opportunities for young media makers. But how can this be achieved? All around the world, as public broadcasters undergo privatization it seems that mainstream media is providing limited opportunities for child and youth media-makers. The internet and social media, as explained earlier on, are not perfect solutions in and of themselves. In this context, initiatives such as PLURAL+ and OneMinutesJr. (supported by UNICEF) – vital platforms for young people’s expression – are need more than ever.