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What is quality?
Quality criteria of children and producers
1. Children's quality criteria
What makes a children's film/programme outstanding from the point of view of children's quality assessment?
The concept of “quality” surfaces repeatedly in association with children's film and television. Often in such cases the definition of quality is simply a reflection of the concept of professionalism which relates to aspects of cinematic technique (plot, sets, editing, music etc.) Arguments which advocate quality in terms of content are considered only on the margins of the discussion. One such argument, for example, is that the interpretation should remain as close as possible to the children's own reality. But what is the children's own reality? Are these only traces of quality as it is conceived by adults? In a study conducted in the Netherlands, Peter Nikken investigated four assessment groups, including groups of children and parents. In this way he was able to extrapolate quality criteria such as comprehensibility, aesthetic quality, commitment, entertainment, inoffensiveness, credibility, and the presence of role models.
An IZI internet survey of parents on parental mediation and quality programmes suggested that, presumably, parents often judge a programme according to their own aesthetic sentiments, wishes (educational content) and provisos (no violence).
How, then, do children judge the programmes that are made for them? What demands do they make of programme formulas, and what points do they emphasise in their assessments of quality? With the aid of this project the IZI attempts to lay bare, up to a point, the quality criteria which children apply to children's programmes.
Primary data source: children's jury
Children's juries have become an established feature of several children's film and television festivals. Here children have the authority to assess their own programmes. In discussions which are often long and intense they evaluate the programmes which have been made for them. Such discussions were recorded at four different national and international festivals:
- At the 2003 “Goldener Spatz” Festival of German children's film and television in Gera and Erfurt, a 32-headed children's jury drawn from all regions of the country judged the 62 entries.
- At the 8th “Schlingel” International Festival of Children's Film in Chemnitz (13-19 October 2003), a national and an international children's jury awarded prizes to international children's film productions.
- At the “Prix Jeunesse International 2004” in Munich, a 32-headed jury passed judgement on 89 entries.
- At the “Lucas 2004” in Frankfurt a 10-member jury of 5 children and 5 adults selected 15 children's films from 12 countries.
In an initial stage the quality criteria cited by children are analysed, with a view to ascertaining how far the criteria of assessment differ according to genre or gender.
In a second stage, current quality criteria as demonstrated by adults both in theory (literature) and practice (jury sessions) are summarised and compared with those of the children.
Secondary data source: adult jury
In addition to the children's juries, adults also discuss the same programmes. The expert discussions at the 2003 “Goldener Spatz” and “Schlingel” festivals were recorded and evaluated by means of content analysis. What frames of reference and categories do adults apply when discussing which programmes are prize-worthy? The contrasts with the discussions of the children's jury especially and how the respective groups arrived at their final decisions acquire particular interest in the evaluation and interpretation.
The results were published in the journal “TelevIZIon” 22/2009/E” and presented at the IZI conference “What is Quality?” in Munich (6-7 December 2005).
2. Producers' quality criteria
A general conception of quality is a sine qua non for those who make successful children's and youth television programmes. Nevertheless the actual distinguishing features of, for example, high-quality characters or a successful dramatic treatment are rarely set down in writing. At the same time, the creators of children's television constitute a group which has already been researched by the IZI on several occasions. In a survey of experts, Bernd Schorb and Hans-Jörg Stiehler evaluate interviews with 41 editors of children's programmes and adduce ideal types of professional self-image and professional ethos. In 2001 Maya Götz and Paul Löhr investigated the relationships between biographical experiences, fantasies, and objective setting in children's TV editors. This has been complemented by international studies, for example on the understanding of gender in television characters or political education.
The investigation of the actual distinguishing characteristics of quality is intended to supplement this series of studies. Around 20 producers of children's television and film were asked about the professional criteria which they apply to the quality of their products, with special emphasis on the conception of characters and dramatic realisation of the programmes/films. The results were published in "TelevIZIon 22/2009/E”.