Our kids’ TV sucks

2014-10-20 18:45

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It seems that kids’ TV is filled with endless, bad-quality, ‘nutritionally empty’ foreign shows with little real-life relevance to South African children. Thinus Ferreira laments the state of kids’ programming

You can now buy fish for dinner that comes with a green list index to show you how environmentally sustainable it is, snacks carry nutritional labels to warn about tartrazine, and you can even check if your water bottle is “BPA free”.

Yet, TV for children – for impressionable young minds – provides no indicator or consumer label about its actual “nutritional” value.

Viacomjust added two more pay TV channels to the playpen of MultiChoice’s DStv – Nicktoons and Nick Jr – a growing telly kindergarten that also includes Disney, Turner Broadcasting, the BBC’s CBeebies and AMC Networks’ JimJam air. Openview HD has eToonz+ and StarSat carries BabyTV, JimJam, and Smile of a Child.

While the number of kids’ TV channels on pay-TV keeps growing (while the hours of youth programming on public and free-to-air channels keeps diminishing) the vast majority of what is shown happens to be foreign content – American and British – with little real educational value or real-life relevance to a South African child.

The British Mister Maker on CBeebies is wonderful, teaching children in an entertaining way to craft simple things from everyday households objects. Yet sadly even the little things like buttons, ribbons, glitter, glue or an egg box isn’t as readily available in the average working class South African home.

There’s precious little quality kids programming on South African television with local resonance, that teaches, uplifts and entertains.

Yet five year olds and 12 year olds are bombarded with “another special Halloween” episode, thundercats, penguins, Johnny Bravos, werewolves, Teletubbies, and teenage witches like Sabrina.

Instead of The Flintstones, South African television needs more Takalani Sesame. Takalani was an excellent South Africanised adaptation of an American educational and entertaining format – customised for our little eyes.

How about a black Powerpuff girl? Or Lebo’s Laboratory instead of Dexter’s?

Mindless entertainment

From next month, Disney will add commercials to the Disney Junior channel with the support of MultiChoice.

The same company was fined earlier this year by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA for showing a scary horror promo the commission found “violated the rights of parents and caregivers of smaller children”.

And that’s Disney – supposedly the best of the kids’ TV brands.

Equally lamentable is the downward spiral of youth TV on public TV. The second season of Signal High, a “mini-sodes” edutainment drama on SABC?2 in the Hectic Nine-9 time slot, is a lone bright beacon of what our youth TV should be. Signal High is locally produced, has relevance, addresses real topics like bullying, loyalty, peer pressure and the stresses kids face, and does so in an entertaining way.

No investment

With such minor investment kids programming, it is no wonder the SABC and e.tv schedules are loaded with junk TV like Transformers Animated, Hannah Montana, Zorro Generation Z and Pokemon.

The danger with the unperturbed “McDonaldisation” of South Africa’s kids’ TV is that we’re going to end up with generations of children who were TV-fed little more than Boomerang’s Scooby-Doo Halloween episodes and Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Ask any good mum and she will tell you – to grow a healthy child, you really do need some veggies on every plate, even better if they were grown in your own garden.

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