Media portrayal of children has a profound impact on attitudes to children and childhood, and is an important influence on adults’ behavior towards children. Media depictions provide role models for young people, influencing their attitudes and expectations. The way in which the media represent, or even ignore, children can influence decisions taken on their behalf, and how the rest of society regards them. The media often covers children negatively merely as passive, silent ‘victims’.
By providing children and young people with opportunities to speak for themselves about their hopes and fears, their achievements, and the impact of adult behavior on their lives, media professionals can remind the public that children deserve to be respected as individual human beings.
Coverage of children’s issues in Zimbabwe tends to focus on the sensational while ignoring the broad array of issues confronting children. Media reports about children are often one-off stories, with little or no analysis or follow-up. When children do feature in the news, they are often portrayed as stereotypes such as ‘starving children’ and ‘irresponsible teenagers’.
Stories of child abuse, child marriages, child prostitution and children involved in crime and street children tend to dominate the media, while the broader issues of children’s rights, such as the right to play, recreation and sport, are often not regarded as newsworthy. The result is an unbalanced impression of ‘children as victims’ or as threatening ‘trouble-makers’.
Children’s participation in the media attests to their interest in the world around them, especially if given the chance to express themselves meaningfully on issues affecting them. The media have to create numerous opportunities for young people to participate in media as participation in media generates excellent outcomes for young people.
Positive media coverage on children strengthens their sense of pride, power and self-esteem, make them feel being part of their community, and that they have achieved an understanding of others and of their own culture .Children will also acquire greater social justice engendered by allowing young people who do not manage well in traditional, print-based schools to take part in audio-visual media production.
As part of civil society, the media have the responsibility of upholding and promoting children’s rights. While journalists can uncover cases of abuse and raise awareness of children’s rights, they greatly influence how children are viewed and portrayed as it is their role to shape up public opinion and influence behavior.