Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Children's TV Execs Defend ‘Political’ Themes in Preschool Content

Preschool shows should address issues relating to diversity, according to executives from Nickelodeon, Hopster and BBC Children’s, despite objections from some quarters.

Speaking during a session at C21’s Content London On Demand, the execs were discussing whether it’s suitable to include diversity issues in programmes aimed at younger audiences, after preschool platform Hopster received backlash for making content relating to the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ+ pride. The parents who complained had argued that the topics were “too political” for children of such a young age.

Hopster’s chief creative and content officer Miki Chojnacka rejected the concerns, saying: “Kids are not born prejudiced, it’s a learned behaviour. They don’t mind seeing people on screen who don’t look like them. For them, it’s just always learning. But after preschool, things can change. Celebrating how they are so open and accepting of everything is important.”

Nina Hahn, Senior Vice President (SVP) of Production & Development at Nickelodeon International and head of ViacomCBS International Studios' (VIS) VIS Kids, shared a similar sentiment.

“Racism doesn’t start at age four,” she said. “It’s so lovely when you look at young kids who are agnostic in a lot of ways, and I think the messaging and the way we work with and talk to them is to build that lovely aspect up before they start to change and form opinions that aren’t OK.”

Nickelodeon also received backlash earlier this year for making content relating to the Black Lives Matter movement - including going off-air for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the same length that a white police officer pressed a knee into the neck of George Floyd, ultimately killing him, displaying the Nickelodeon's Declaration of Kids' Rights instead of its scheduled programming - as well as confirming that SpongeBob SquarePants was an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

With ViacomCBS having launched a ‘no diversity, no commission’ policy earlier this year, Hahn said there were two things to consider in relation to this when pitching to the company.

“The two most important seeds to bring to the table are: one, making sure, across the production, you are demonstrably giving a voice to people who may not have had the chance to have a voice; and two, taking a benchmark of wherever you are on the timeline of being a better representative of diversity and inclusion and asking yourself to go one more step.”

Meanwhile, Cheryl Taylor, the outgoing head of content at BBC Children’s channels CBBC and CBeebies, also stressed the importance of including diversity in content for young children in order to better reflect society.

“Whenever you put out a piece of content reflecting or celebrating a person’s life that people think is unsuitable for their child to watch – and the stories are numerous – the simple answer is that you just have to look at social media to see how many different people are expressing themselves,” Taylor said.

“We have to reflect the world as it is to our viewers, otherwise everything we do is fiction and that’s not what we’re there for. Everything we show in that respect is real life. We want to reflect the world, educate and inform our viewers and help them make choices and grow up into happy, healthy and responsible citizens.”

Originally published: Tuesday, December 29, 2020.
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