Children, Sex & The Media:
A discussion on regulatory legislation and academic theories on children and their consumption of media
With the increase in popularity and availability of new media like the internet and mobile media and an increase in traditional media consumption – like television and print media – by the youth, guidelines and regulation enforcement has become an important issue. The media is constantly redefining itself and the creation of new forms of media is occurring at an exponential rate, thus regulation has become increasingly problematic. This essay will analyse the concepts of childhood which inform South African legislation while paying specific attention to the notion of children’s vulnerability, also debating where media consumption responsibility lies and the notion of children’s vulnerability and the politics inherent to these debates.
The aim of the Films and Publications Act of 1996 is “to regulate the distribution of certain publications and the exhibition and distribution of certain films, in the main by means of classification, the imposition of age restrictions and the giving of consumer advice, due regard being had to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic” (1996). The act, along with the amendments strive to protect children from exploitation and harm, for example outlawing child pornography and media that depicts and may cause mental and/or physical harm to a child.
According to guidelines set by the Film and Publication board in the 1996 Film and Publications Act, young children are those individuals younger than the age of ten. Preteens are those individuals between ages eleven to fifteen. Teenagers are classified between the age of sixteen and seventeen. Legally, adults are those older than the age of eighteen and therefore all individuals younger than the age of eighteen are deemed children by the constitution.
These classifications have come a long way and now cover a wider range of intervals. But they assume child development occurs at exactly the same age and all societies believe in the same or rather dominant ideologies of the country or society as a whole. These ideologies however rooted in decency and general humanity, essentially deal with moral wellbeing. But, however – and most significantly – they are not the views of all people. The complexities of this research are thus exemplified. Livingstone suggests that “charting the everyday conditions in which people access and use media would prove more helpful in framing regulation” (2007:10).
We can therefore not continue to study media effects as a separate entity from all other social factors. Instead, the question of media effects should be rethought and restated in words that do not connote negative effects from the onset of the research. This is because the current manner of approaching the research – ‘Media harm theories’ – arguably frames the scope of results by assuming that there ‘are’ effects and that the only task at hand is finding out in particular what these effects are. Livingstone insists on a “more complex formulation of this question, namely – in what way and to what extent do the media contribute, if at all, as one among several identifiable factors that, in combination, account for the social phenomenon under consideration” (2007: 9).
For the most part we find that images and ideas that do not conform to societal norms are deemed as unfit. One can argue that these regulations serve to mould children into decent members of society, but to what extent is this regulation too much and to what extent does this cater for individual needs, instead of seeing all children as a single entity? The current constitution as it lies implies that some children are ‘more capable than others’. For example the classifications act deems sex in films – which has to be framed within a non abusive context – suitable for a sixteen year old to view and not for a child who is...
Bibliography: Livingstone, Sonia. (2007) Do the media harm children? Journal of Children and Media, 1.1.
Buckingham, David and Sara Bragg. (2004) Introduction.Young people, sex and the media: The facts of life? New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
The Films and Publications Act (1996) and subsequent amendments (1999, 2004 and 2006 Bills) (Vula)
Film and Publications Board. (2007) Classification guildelines http://www.fpb.gov.za/class_guide/CLASSIFICATION%20GUIDELINES%202007.pdf (Vula)
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