>> overview research
Children watching war
Children's perspectives on the war
in Iraq and television coverage of the war
For weeks it had been in the media:
the war in Iraq. Bombardments, wounded and dead people could
be seen in the news. Children had their own perspective about
these things. They had concerns and questions. They needed
information, but also had the wish to announce their emotions
and their view of things.
A current study by IZI, in co-operation
with international researchers, is investigating the ways
in which children's perspectives are characterised and the
ways in which children's television deals with this topic.
A. Interviews with children
During the first week of the war, problem-centred
interviews were conducted with a total of 138 children (6
to 13 years old), 95 children from Germany and 43 from Austria.
In an additional sample 7 Iraqi children, who had escaped
to Germany, were asked about their perspective on things.
German children are explicitly and actively engaged against
Austrian children analyse the topic more superficially
Nearly all the German children participating
in the study were against the war and knew details about it.
This knowledge derived, above all, from television but also
from discussions with parents or at school. About 70% of the
children watched specific programmes about the war in Iraq.
In particular, they remembered acts of war. They were interested
in detailed coverage, which enabled them to form an idea of
the situation. Above all, the children liked calls for action
against the war and some even wished for a more explicit positioning
of the hosts of television programmes. Pictures instilling
them with a sense of fear were difficult for the children
but so were 'boring' pictures or contributions with too much
talking. They would have liked to get more information about
the people in Iraq.
Many of the children questioned commented
that they thought a lot about the war and some even dreamt
of it. In these dreams, they imagined themselves to be in
the situation of those who had lost their parents, as dying
themselves or, as in one case, as killers. The children's
emotions were mostly consternation and empathy but also anger
and fear. The picture of Americans is strikingly critical
- German children, for example, saw them as those playing
underhand tricks on others in order to kill as many Iraqis
as possible. Some children supposed that the Americans enjoyed
killing, e.g. Iraqi children.
In comparison to Austrian children,
it is noticeable that German children dealt with the topic
in more depth, being supported therein by their parents or
at school. Austrian children did not deal with the topic in
a corresponding way. Accordingly, their knowledge was less
sound and Austrian children's fantasies were less realistic
but also less Anti-American.
The Iraqi children in Germany have
a very intense relation to the topic. As they often have relatives
still living in Iraq, they were worried about their safety.
They were often against the war, too, but considered Saddam
Hussein to be a criminal who should be evicted. They perceived
the coverage the way it was made in the German media as incorrect,
superficial, and at times inappropriate. They frequently wished
for more information dealing appropriately with the life and
situation of people in Iraq.
B. Analysis of children's emails to broadcasting stations
Broadcasting stations have become a
central place where children send their questions and assessments
of the situation. The study is investigating the questions
children sent to German TV stations' Web portals at Kika.de,
tivi.de, toggo.de and kindernetz.de. The emails being sent
to broadcasting stations by children during the first week
after war had broken out are evaluated by means of content
Parallel to this study, and using the
same codebook, Dr. Peter Nikken is analysing emails sent to
children's broadcasting stations in the Netherlands. For further
information see www.jeugdenmedia.nl
Dutch children argue more diversely
About 84% of German children take a
clear position against the war. They reason with a general
rejection of war as it is "no solution" and people
die. More often, children give personalised arguments; they
reject President Bush and his way of acting. Frequently, they
write that his arguments are threadbare because the war is
fought for economic reasons only. In their statements, children
and pre-teens also express their emotions, especially empathy
with the Iraqi population, but also fear and anger. In the
children's emails, however, the hope for a speedy end to the
war and a peaceful solution, i.e. a reconciliation between
Bush and Hussein, is also expressed. In their emails, children
look for information explicitly about the Iraq War (e.g. the
reasons for it) but also, on principle, question why there
is war at all.
In the Dutch sample, a majority (67%)
of the children were against the war. However, there were
significantly more children with a pro-war attitude than in
the German sample. In their argumentation, Dutch children
were more diverse than the German children. Apart from the
most common argument that "People die or are injured"
during war, Dutch children argued significantly more often
focusing on the person Saddam Hussein, e.g. that he is a dictator.
But also arguments such as "The UN did not consent to
the attack", "Iraq has dangerous weapons" or
"The USA delivered the weapons to Iraq themselves"
are lines of argumentation which can hardly ever be found
in German panel entries. Only the argument that "In fact,
Mister Bush wants the oil" is mentioned more often by
German than by Dutch children. The two samples also differ
in the emotions shown. Dutch children expressed more empathy
but also more fear in connection with the topic, while anger
as an emotion is mentioned more often by German children.
The statistical differences found between
the panel entries in the Netherlands and the German-speaking
providers are currently being used as the basis for a media
analysis which is directed towards an examination of children's
news with regard to the question of whether the tendencies
found in the children's statements show a quantitative correspondence
in television programmes (conducted by Wiebke Landschulz (IZI)
and Charlotte Brekelmans (Uni Amsterdam)).
C. Media analysis
A third sub-project is investigating
how far broadcasting stations consider the needs of children.
During the first week of war, the Internet offer and children's
news are analysed (Logo, Schau mal, Confetti tivi). In addition,
there is a survey on the offer of television-convergent internet
Compared to programmes for adults,
news for children is more clearly against the war
In the analysis of the coverage in
the German and Austrian programmes, a strikingly frequent
positioning against the war could be detected in the coverage
of news for children. The German news programme for children
logo! positioned itself with 50% of all sequences most frequently
against the war. But Austrian news for children, too, often
showed a rejection of war. In comparison to news for adults,
news for children gave relatively fewer arguments for and
against the war. George W. Bush was given quantitatively more
attention in the coverage than Saddam Hussein. On the screen,
both were nearly equally frequently present, however, the
name Bush was mentioned more often. It is striking that pictures
of suffering Iraqi people were avoided to the greatest possible
extent in news for children. An illustration of Iraqi's emotions
was totally excluded from news for children.
D. Multinational comparison
War is a media event. The media coverage,
however, varies in different contexts (this topic is investigated
by Elisabeth Prommer at the HFF Potsdam-Babelsberg). Also
the situation of children varies in different countries. While
German children participate in demonstrations and discuss
war at school, children in Israel are involved in emergency
trainings and carry their gas-masks with them.
In a multi-national comparison (Germany
- Austria - Israel - USA) the functions of television and
television convergent offers for children are investigated.
The investigation set-ups vary according to the specific contexts.
Media analyses and expert interviews referring to national
news coverage relevant to children will be added.
In the USA, the attempt to keep children uninformed;
in Israel, specific fears and open questions despite a high
amount of information
In the USA/California/San Diego the
20 children questioned in this survey were enthusiastic about
the war; however, in general, the girls rejected it and wished
for peace. Discussion of the topic at school had not taken
place (the teachers were forbidden to speak about the topic).
Conversations with parents were generally unsatisfying for
the children who were looking for information and wanted to
discuss war in general, which their parents refused to do.
Accordingly, knowledge about the war was modest and the children's
analysis of the topic was rather superficial. Empathy with
Iraqi people did not occur with American boys at all whereas
the girls saw the 'necessity' of the war but also the Iraqi
people's suffering. The boys, in special, developed fantasies
e.g. of George Bush cutting Saddam Hussein's throat with his
own hands. Bombs, explosions and especially winning the war
were the focus of attention.
In Israel, the population prepared
for weeks for coming under attack from Saddam Hussein's long-range
biological or chemical weapons. Accordingly, specific fears
were uttered in the interviews, e.g. losing a member of the
family or being in a situation when it is impossible to put
on a gas-mask. The 39 children questioned were 'well-informed'
about the war, its background and development. Their main
interpretation of the reason for the war: Saddam Hussein wants
to bomb Israel, therefore the USA attack Iraq in order to
defend us. They cite the "axis of evil" and refer
to the attacks on September 11. What they hope for is an American
victory bringing about security for Israel and chances for
Iraq as well. Therefore, not all the children have a necessarily
pro-war attitude. Some argue that war is not a solution and
will result in nothing but destruction. Due to the country's
involvement, the media were filled with programmes dealing
with the topic. Children were not always enthusiastic about
the programmes; Girls especially, found them too sad. In several
cases, the contributions contained too much talking and boring
pictures. If Israeli children could decide on the programme,
they would report on the war from their own perspective. There
remain many questions about details that they would like to
have explained in a contribution especially produced for children,
"because adults know what war is and children don't."
(Shirley, 9 years)
E. How far does television support children world wide in
Children's broadcasting stations provide
children with various programmes and internet offers dealing
with the war in Iraq. Children's news from Mexico to the Netherlands
deal with the topic, Elmo from Sesame Street gives advice
on how to cope with fear, etc. PRIX JEUNESSE INTERNATIONAL
is collecting these programmes world-wide, and conducts interviews
with editors about their goals and guidelines. The half-standardised
survey is supplemented by a qualitative analysis of single
Different offers; many of them with clear guidelines on what
may be shown
Producers of children's television
gave quite a diverse amount of attention to the war in Iraq.
On the whole, the range stretches from a heightened concentration
on the topic aimed at giving very detailed information for
children up to "sparing" the children facts about
the war and distraction via alternative, "war-free"
television offers. The coverage of the war on children's television
frequently took place in the form of news programmes for children
whereby some broadcasters took care to design the explications
of correlations according to children's state of knowledge.
Moreover, there were reports about the situation of children
in Iraq. Reports about children in the respective country
with a strong consideration of their perspective on the war
and their fears were also quite a frequent element of programmes
about the war in Iraq. In chat shows, experts (ranging from
peace pedagogues to psychologists and military officers) were
questioned. In addition, communication with a youth audience
was established via internet-sites and telephone help-lines.
Many broadcasting stations developed
guidelines for their war coverage for children, e.g. no pictures
of heavily/badly injured, respectively killed people, no reports
on details about America's weapons technology etc. In general,
numerous broadcasters increasingly tried to include children
in their programme design focussing, respectively, on their
perspective on the war.
First results of the sub-studies
were published in the
English issue of TelevIZIon (17/ 2004/E)
Book publication: Children and Media in Times of War and Conflict
CHILDREN WATCHING WAR