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October 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

It's All About Money, Not Children

October 12, 2006

by Kenneth Davidson - The Age

Why does the Howard Government's hype about values and a national curriculum remind me of the $20 million "run for cover" fear campaign in 2000, in which the implicit message was for people to buy private health insurance because they couldn't rely on Medicare or the public hospital system in the future.

The subliminal message being pumped out now is that, unlike the private schools, government schools lack values except those acceptable to the teacher unions and those embedded in the curriculum by bureaucrats.

According to federal Education Minister Julie Bishop, the debate has moved on from resourcing. "The new frontier of educational reform in Australia is about teacher quality and curriculum Ideologues who have hijacked schools' curriculums are experimenting with the education of our young people from a comfortable position of unaccountability, safe within the education bureaucracies."

There is a fundamental difference in values between public and private schools. One sells, sotto voce, exclusivity and the other offers inclusiveness. For parents who see school education primarily as a necessary hurdle in the race for tertiary credentials, there is a big plus in having their children educated in an environment in which they won't be held back by children who aren't similarly motivated.

Education has become a positional good, reinforced by the twin advantages of unequal resourcing increasingly financed out of general taxation and the freedom to expel disruptive elements into the government school system. It is no wonder the Government wants the education debate to move on from resourcing and onto the Mickey Mouse issue of curriculum.

Government schools, especially, have to deal with the world as it is. About one-third of children probably spend more time watching TV than they do in a classroom. Should they spend all their time in English studying Shakespeare or should at least part of their time be spent analysing the popular programs (and the associated advertising) that they watch?

The Government has responsibility for broadcasting policy, which gives it leverage over media ownership. The most likely outcome from the media laws now before Parliament will be further concentration of media ownership and proprietorial power.

The prospects are chilling. The doyen of children's TV in Australia, Patricia Edgar, has just published her memoir, Bloodbath, of her time in children's television, both as a regulator who was primarily responsible for the introduction of the C classification for children's programming and as producer of children's programs through the Australian Children's Television Foundation.

The book details a mulish determination by commercial broadcasters, both individually and collectively, to oppose any attempt to provide innovative children's programming that might impose a charge on their commercial objective. As Edgar points out: "They were happy to be bag men, buying cheap programs from overseas and transmitting them for profit they could spend up to a billion dollars for a network and then argue they couldn't afford children's programs."

Edgar describes how, more recently, commercial broadcasters worldwide have discovered how to exploit what has become a multibillion-dollar children's market. This has promoted what Edgar argues is the development of a "raunch culture in which children are shown in advertisements in various degrees of undress with come-hither looks and bedroom eyes".

Edgar's charge is reinforced by a study of the sexualisation of children in Australia for the Australia Institute in which the marketing of clothing and cosmetics to children is described as "corporate pedophilia", which is a metaphor encapsulating the idea that such advertising and marketing is an abuse of both children and of public morality.

I must say this advertising is subtle, maybe subliminal. But the children's advertising and marketing directed to encouraging the consumption of junk food and the purchase of American toys and games, isn't. And just as obvious is its long-term impact of an obesity epidemic.

And the Government's answer? It is the responsibility of parents to monitor the viewing habits of their children.

For many families, the TV is the primary babysitter. Once children's viewing occurred in the family room where there was at least the prospect of mediation by an adult.

Now the norm is for children to watch their own TV in the privacy of their own bedroom while they are playing an electronic game.

Many families, through no fault of their own, are ill-equipped for shielding their children from the invasive force of commercial television. Children should be put before profits. At the very least, junk-food advertising should be banned now and if there isn't the advertising revenue to sustain quality children's programming, programs should be financed out of higher broadcast licence fees.

As Edgar argues, it is the media that drive society and shape our values. Unlike educators who have children's interests at heart, commercial TV is a business that demonstrates scant respect for children and yet the bagmen who control the electronic media are to be rewarded by the Government. Why?

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