Youth news programme undermines itself

Growing up in rural Netherlands in the eighties, we used to have a newspaper subscription at home. From the age of about eight I watched the “Jeugdjournaal” (Youth news programme), together with my brothers and parents and slowly but steadily a social and political awareness grew among us kids.

Today it is our generation’s turn so at home we receive a printed newspaper at home every Saturday in an attempt to teach the children that they should get their news from there and not from apps on their phones. Of course, our children also watch the modern version of Jeugdjournaal, to get them used to sound news sources. While they are watching my wife and I are present for any necessary interpretation for images from Ukraine, Gaza, Yemen, Sudan and all those other conflicts that can come in a bit raw for young children. After all, they only know unpredictable explosives in residential areas from the time around New Year’s Eve.

Of course, though they look interested, they quietly look forward to whatever programme they can select afterwards, but that’s not the point. Halfway through one episode last month, I told them out of sheer annoyance that they could turn it off and watch something else. Yes, Ukraine was mentioned and the host also made an effort to explain that no news coming from a region doesn’t immediately mean that nothing is happening. But the timing was weird. Russia had just rained down unprecedented bombs there in the days before.

The rest of the programme was different. It included an item about draconian fines for Singaporean cat owners, a country that is known for harsh penalties anyway. Another prominent item was about a sixteen-year-old from the UK who proved successful in the world of darts, a sport from a context for which he seemed barely of age. This young man was presented as someone “who does what he wants” and “eats pizza every day”. The latter was even speculated as if it were the cause of his sport achievements. In addition to videos of the athlete as a child prodigy, we saw interviews with other athletes from the field and, repeatedly, with a bartender.

Top-level sport costs society a lot. It is sometimes unhealthy, leads to tribal violence and countless other problems, including a huge waste of resources and large emissions of waste and greenhouse gases. An important reason for the acceptance of these problems, in addition to perhaps the entertainment value, is that top-level sport can inspire young people. If that is the case, Jeugdjournaal was missing the point entirely.

The entire episode was in fact full of sports. Every other item was interspersed with it. Of course, sport has news value and will appeal to the target group, one that for Jeugdjournaal is undoubtedly difficult to retain because it has to compete with other media. Using free phone apps, news is offered to them a lot more barrier-free than a television programme could. The question, however, is whether it is wise to exchange the news for attractive entertainment, or whether it would be better to dive more into the content in order to make a clear distinguishing difference.

“Check dit dan” (Check this) is a regular section of Jeugdjournaal, in which entertaining videos are shown that have been plucked straight from Instagram, YouTube and other apps and which phone-owning children likely have seen already. The main motive behind this, in addition to an obvious laziness on the part of the editors, also seems to be an attempt to hold on to the target group. Once again, however, the wrong example is being set and Jeugdjournaal is undermining what one would think should have been its main mission.

What must my children think when they see this? If even the news is reaching for TikTok, why shouldn’t I?

Categorised as: children, media

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