Youth Media and Communication Initiative (YMCI)
Empowering Tomorrow's Leaders





Media Literacy and the Nigerian Child 
By Chido Onumah*

November 20 marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This human rights treaty gives all children (under 18 years) the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind through any media of their choice. Though relatively new, this Convention is “the most widely and most rapidly adopted human rights convention in history (ratified by all governments except the richest, the United States of America and one of the poorest, Somalia)”. Nigeria ratified the Convention on April 19, 1991.

November 20 also marks another important date in the global youth calendar. It is the 5th anniversary of the Oslo Challenge. On this date in 1999, young people, media professionals and child rights experts met in Oslo, Norway, under the auspices of the Norwegian government, to discuss the relationship between children’s rights and the media around the world. The outcome was the Oslo Challenge which resolved that "the child/media relationship is an entry point into the wide and multifaceted world of children and their rights -- to education, freedom of expression, play, identity, health, dignity and self-respect, protection -- and that in every aspect of child rights, in every element of the life of a child, the relationship between children and the media plays a role”.

The Oslo Challenge is the most definitive document on young people and the media. It is a call to action, and as the authors have rightly described, goes out to everyone engaged in exploring, developing, monitoring and participating in the complex relationship between children and the media. It spells out the following roles for all stakeholders in the child/media relationship. It notes that governments should recognise children as an investment rather than a cost, and as potential rather than a burden, and to strive to integrate this reality into policy, including that related to the media.

The challenge to organisations and individuals working for children is to respect the need for independence of the media as a component of democratic society and to work together with media professionals to promote and protect children's rights and to respond to children's needs. The obligation of media professionals at all levels and in all media is to raise awareness in the media professions about the rights of children and how they can be protected and promoted by good professional practices or harmed through inappropriate policies or actions.

The Oslo Challenge calls on children and young people to know and understand their rights as laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to find and develop ways to contribute to the fulfilment of these rights, including the rights of access to information and to diverse points of view, and to find ways to promote their own active participation in the media and in media development; to learn as much as they can about the media so that they can make informed choices as media consumers and gain maximum benefit from the diversity the media offer.

The challenge to the private sector, including media owners is to take into account the rights of children to access, participation, media education and protection from harmful content in the development of new media products and technologies. And to parents, teachers and researchers, the Oslo Challenge calls for acknowledgement and support of the rights of children to have access to media, participate in it and use it as a tool for their advancement; to provide a protective and supportive environment in which children can make choices as media consumers that promote their development to their full potential.

Like their counterparts in other countries, media professionals in Nigeria have a crucial role in not just understanding the problems facing children and youth but being a catalyst for the realization of their many unfulfilled dreams. In many parts of Nigeria, young people continue to be deprived of their basic rights. There are still huge problems regarding nutrition, health, education and justice for children and youth in Nigeria.

What would it take for children and youth to become stakeholders in their own success? What would it take to make young people across the country steady allies rather than frequent adversaries? Many child rights advocates contend that for children and youth to become active and play a positive role in civil society they need a clear understanding of issues and the process of addressing them. One of the ways they can do this is to become media literate. We live in a media world replete with new technologies and young people are daily being fed with media messages that affect them in different ways. Around the world, children and youth are also learning to use these new technologies to address issues that affect them. Because of the role media play in the lives of young people, advocates of media literacy contend that it should be “as much a part of school curricula as history or English”.

So, what is media literacy? The National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy in the United States defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce communication in a variety of forms”. Apart from helping children and youth think critically about various media, supporters of media literacy argue that it can mitigate the potential adverse effects of media and empower children and youth to make informed choices and actively participate in society.

Clearly, to have an impact in society, children and youth not only have to understand the issues that affect them, they should be able to communicate these issues in a proper and effective manner. Media literacy is increasingly being integrated into the school system in many countries, including South Africa, Canada, the UK, Australia and the United States. Children and youth in these countries are learning both in and out of school to become critical thinkers and creative producers of media messages and, therefore, active participants in their societies. They are doing this through media clubs and other youth media initiatives.

Youth media initiatives offer ways to change negative attitudes about children and youth in the media. They also provide opportunities for young people to show their creative side and nurture their roles as agents of social change. Inspired by this vision, a group of Nigerian journalists founded the Youth Media and Communication Initiative (YMCI) in January 2004. It is the belief of YMCI that if children and youth understand how the media operate, they would not only contribute to the coverage of news and events about young people, they would also promote the positive roles they play in society.

The mission of YMCI includes facilitating the expansion of communication infrastructure to children and youth in Nigeria and increasing their access to comprehensive information about their rights; building the capacity of children and youth to utilise communication resources and increasing their capacity to articulate and critically analyse issues that impact on their lives and the nation.

Of course, this cannot be achieved unless, as the cliche goes, there is an enabling environment and all stakeholders play their role effectively. As the world celebrates young people and their relationship with the media, we call on the Federal Government to create a national policy on media education as a prelude to integrating media literacy into the school curriculum. This is a generation that needs to be heard and there is no better way of achieving this than for children and youth to understand the power of the media and use it to their benefit.

*Onumah is coordinator, Youth Media & Communication Initiative.



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