A Few Reminders About
Potential Contributions of the Media
to Children in Times of Conflict & War



In an increasingly globalised world, war and terror attacks have become part of children's everyday lives. In terms of quality, this situation makes new and greater demands on producers of children's and youth television.

Nicole, girl from United States
Nicole, girl from United States

These are questions that call for urgent answers. Such answers can be found in close collaboration between research and TV production.

For this purpose, the IZI (International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, Bayerischer Rundfunk [BR], Munich, Germany) in cooperation with the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Agency of Civic Education, Bonn, Germany) hosted a four-day colloquium in June 2004 on the subject of Children and Young People Watching War - What to do When the Next War Comes? The latest research results on media coverage and children's responses to the war in Iraq were discussed, along with approaches from civic education and peace studies used with children in times of war. The conclusions from these discussions included developing recommendations for TV producers for presenting the news during times of conflict and war. The present document evolved out of these discussions.

Colloquium Participants:

Prof. Christian Büttner, Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research, Germany
Prof. Joanne Cantor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Dr. Cynthia Carter, Cardiff University, Wales, Great Britain
Verena Egbringhoff, logo!, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), Germany
Dr. Ingrid Geretschlaeger, Media Education Consultancy at the Academy of Lower Austria, Austria
Dr. Maya Götz, International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, Germany
Andreas von Hören, Mediaprojekt Wuppertal, Germany
Prof. Dafna Lemish, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Dr. Peter Lemish, Independent Researcher, Israel
Prof. Máire Messenger Davies, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland
Dr. Peter Nikken, Expert Center on Youth and Media, Netherlands
Chris Schüpp, Young People's Media Network, UNICEF, Germany
Caroline Seige, Federal Agency of Civic Education, Germany
Prof. Ellen Seiter, University of Southern California, USA
Prof. Crain Soudien, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Petra Strohmaier, International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, Germany
Prof. Samy Tayie, Cairo University, Egypt
Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen, Amsterdam University, Netherlands
Ragna Wallmark, Utbildningdradion (UR), Sweden
Willi Weitzel, Willi Want's to Know it All, BR, Germany

Development of this document was coordinated by Dr. Maya Götz and Dr. Peter Lemish.
Unless otherwise noted, drawings and quotes of children are from research studies to be included in a forthcoming edited book by Prof. D. Lemish and Dr. M. Götz Children Facing the War in Iraq: The Role of Media in Europe, USA and Israel (temporary title).

To Producers of Children's Programmes

Source:  Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen studied Dutch children.
Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen
studied Dutch children.

Video: Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen Video: Prof. Crain Soudie
Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen
Prof. Crain Soudie

Video: Dr. Cynthia Carter Video: Dr. Peter Nikken
Dr. Cynthia Carter
Dr. Peter Nikken

Children are more aware of current social conflicts and events than you may think. They view and value your work. And they want you to value and address their questions, concerns and needs.

Therefore, addressing the "news" in programmes aimed at children is important, because it can prepare and empower them as future citizens, at all times and especially during times of conflict, to do the following:

Such contributions are important for the children as well as for the development of a democratic society. Therefore, we encourage you to integrate social conflicts and news in programming for children.

From online news discussions about the war in Iraq, BBC Newsround:

It really annoys me when something controversial happens in the news, adults say `it may make a bad impression on children'.
This may be the case with very little children, but when they say children, they mean everyone ranging from toddlers to 18-year-olds.
They do not seem to understand that people my age have a mind of our own... saying that something may make a bad impression on us is insulting our intelligence.

Gemma, 14, posted May 29, 2004

From forthcoming study by Dr. Cynthia Carter.

Telling the Story

Ludwig a 9-year-old boy from Germany
Ludwig, a 9-year-old boy from Germany

Children are likely to have gained some knowledge about a conflict or war situation, but programmes meant specifically for them should help them cope with that knowledge by presenting information in ways that are not traumatising, but also not trivialising.

While making his drawing (on the right), Ludwig a 9-year-old boy from Germany, tells us what he wants to know from TV:
"I am interested to know: Who is making war with whom? Who else is involved? Who has the better chance of winning? What do the soldiers look like? How many of them are there?," followed by many other questions.

more... (PDF)

More specifically,

  1. Inform - Provide information to key journalistic questions.
  2. Contextualise - Provide information about the geography as well as the cultures of the peoples involved in the conflict.
  3. Diversify - Enable viewers to understand the conflict from diverse points of view, including all sides to the conflict.
  4. Relate - Help viewers understand the conflict in relation to the everyday lives of children affected by conflict, including their emotions and concerns.
  5. Be Complete - Tell the full story of the conflict (not just the war period when there is fighting). This would include reporting on -
    • the pre-war rise of tensions and efforts to avoid war;
    • war as the most violent stage in a conflict ... and the impact of the war on all the parties to the conflict;
    • efforts to negotiate a cease fire and resolution;
    • post-war implementation of agreements and rebuilding of societies and lives.

"I would have made a special programme for children, because adults know what war is and children don't", said Shirley, a 9-year-old Israeli girl.

more... (PDF)

How Children Understand War Coverage

Children and young people understand and interpret the war coverage in ways that may be somewhat different from adults.

The News Does Evoke Fear and Emotions in Children

"News" and reporting about violence in conflicts can evoke fears.

Fernando, a 12-year-old boy from Brasil
Fernando, a 12-year-old boy from Brasil
(submitted to Canal Futura and reported
by Débora Garcia, 2004)

more... (PDF)

Representative studies with American children and young people conducted by Professor Joanne Cantor (University of Wisconsin) demonstrate that younger children can be especially frightened by the news.
For example, 7- to 10-year-old children feel threatened by seeing pictures of injured people or bomb attacks. 13- to 17-year-olds are concerned about significant political issues, like the threat of a nuclear war or their own country's role in a conflict, such as the war in Iraq.

Note: Findings from a study by Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen
Note: Findings from a study by
Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen

When interviewing Dutch children, Dr. Juliette Walma van der Molen (University of Amsterdam) found that the number of children who are frightened by TV news has increased over the last six years. While previously they were afraid of murder and inter-personal violence, war and terrorist attacks have become the most frightening topics for more than half of the children.
more... (PDF)

Video: Prof. Joanne Cantor
Prof. Joanne Cantor

But, it is not only fear they feel when considering the topic of war. There are many more emotions involved. Some children are angry and concerned that the war will touch and affect them personally.

Be sensitive in the use of texts, pictures and sounds as they may engender fear. Enable children to articulate their anger and emotions. Provide them with suggestions about what to do about their emotions.

Civic Education

Relating to the news in children's programming is very important in developing children's civic education

Sabine, a 10-year-old girl from Austria
Sabine, a 10-year-old girl from Austria:
"We want Peace"; "Against the War"

One of the leaders of the popular civic education movement, Brasilian educator Paulo Freire summarised the goal of the empowerment that can be achieved through civic education in one word - "praxis": That is, help citizens - young and old - to conduct their daily actions through understanding and moral judgement.

Your reporting the news to children can contribute to helping develop "praxis-oriented" civic education in their everyday lives if you -

In the US, teachers and parents sought to protect their children and so avoided exposing them to media reports and to talking to them about the war. Accordingly, American children's knowledge about the war seemed to be full of gaps. Their ideas about military action almost resembled stories in comics and many questions remained unanswered.

From a research study conducted by Prof. Ellen Seiter

more... (PDF)

Rather than protect children from the news about war, we need to present it to them so they can understand it, express their feelings about it and consider how they can act in relation to it.

Reporting the News Can Contribute to Children's Understanding of Peace

Monique, a 8-year-old girl
Monique, a 8-year-old girl:
"Peace between Bush and Saddam
in front of the UN".

Video: Dr. Peter Lemish
Dr. Peter Lemish

Peace need not be an illusive, imaginary dream world. Often it is an actual achievement when people or societies negotiate and reach a compromise in which the basic needs of all parties in conflict are met.

War is one example of a breakdown in such a process. The best intentions to resolve a conflict may fail. For example, short-term agreements or superficial solutions may not deal with the root causes or may not be well-implemented. In these cases and others, the "Cycle of Conflict" will continue until there is an honest dealing with the core issues of the conflict:

Cycle of Conflict
Dr. Peter Lemish

Explaining and relating the "Cycle of Conflict" to common disputes that occur in children's own lives may help them to understand war and/or peace negotiations.

What can producers do to help children understand the process from conflict to its resolution?

  • Plan programme's coverage of the news so that you are not just reporting about the war when there is violence… be sure to report how people are working to make peace after the fighting stops.
  • Be assuring by showing examples of conflicts that have been resolved in South Africa and the Middle East.

Applying these principles and practices in reporting on wars and social conflicts can also be an opportunity to show that we know how to resolve conflicts... not just between countries, but in our everyday lives at home, in the classroom, in the playground, with friends.
Tamar, 9-year-old Israeli girl
Tamar, 9-year-old Israeli girl,
explained that "I draw Ariel Sharon,
Saddam Hussein and George Bush
making peace and that I see
it on television."

Presenting "News" About Wars ... Some Examples *

Provide different genres and formats such as a variety of formats


Newsround journalist and child  in Baghdad after end of war
Newsround journalist and child
in Baghdad after end of war
Newsround is a news programme for children broadcast six times a day across three different UK channels (BBC1, BBC2, and the CBBC Digital Channel). As expected of a professional journalistic staff, preparations and research were conducted prior to the outbreak of the war in Iraq, coverage was continuous throughout the period of the intense fighting and continued for an extensive period after that in order to follow the consequences of the war on the lives of all involved.

more... (PDF)

Reporting from areas of conflict

Willi wills Wissen
Willi wills Wissen (Willi wants to Know it All, BR) produced an episode entitled When is it war, when peace?

In this episode, Willi goes to Sarajevo, meets a Bosnian family and learns about the work of SFOR troups who remove weapons and find landmines. Even 10 years after the war officially ended, destruction caused during the war, landmines and mental afflictions continue to have a great impact on people's everyday lives.

By shifting perspectives, from an emotional point of view to a perception based upon everyday life, this 26-minute-programme successfully presented the topic of war, completely, without leaving children overwhelmed by this heavy issue.

Other different elements -

"War could be short!"
"War could be short!"

Explanation - logo!, a German children's news programme, includes small sequences in which the backgrounds and developments of the story are explained in a simplified and comprehensible way. Much emphasis is put on visualisation, for example, in the use of graphics; sound editing; as well as by providing a direct, unambiguous picture.

more... (PDF)

Children's participation in the studio - On the programme Moncanoir (France3), a TV reporter met some pupils and discussed questions about the war in Iraq with them.

Giving children a voice in the studio - With little expenditure, Denmark's Broadcasting Corporation produced short segments in which children stated their opinions or asked questions about the war in Iraq.

Forum - A forum on your website will enable children to present and to discuss their opinions about the war and other news. For example, youth from the Arab world discussed the war in Iraq with other young people from all over the world on the UNICEF's Young People's Media Network discussion forum.

* If you have produced a special programme related to this issue, please send the information to us so that we can post it.

Production Guidelines

Video: Prof. Máire Messenger Davies
Prof. Máire
Messenger Davies

Some producers have developed guidelines for reporting "bad news" to children. Here are a few selected examples of such production guidelines*:

  1. Simplify and be obvious.
    • Use direct explanations and clear graphics to make complex issues more understandable.
    • It may help to state the obvious, such as "Saddam's missiles can't reach Brasil". Abstract concepts like distance have no meaning to young children.
  2. Recognise children's fears and try not to be over emotional.
    • Do not show frightening or distressing pictures.
    • Do not use dramatised texts or music.
    • Offer children ways to cope with fears.
    • Be selective; not all stories are relevant for your target audience.
  3. Be fair, get the tone right and avoid speculation.
    • In our multi-cultural societies, there may be members of both sides to a conflict in your audience. For example, in Britain, there is a concern to represent the Muslim community fairly, as it does not have "one voice or one view." To do so avoid phrases such as "British Moslems say..."
    • Use re-assuring script lines: "It is important to remember that child killings are really unusual which is why Holly's and Jessica's deaths received massive attention from the public and press."
  4. Include accounts of attempts to find "solutions/resolutions" to the conflict.
  5. Offer your audience opportunities to be involved:
    • Ask for and read out a range of viewers' questions and comments from different communities (so children can express their feelings and fears and also not feel isolated with their emotions).
    • Read and address their e-mails - on the air and in a website… perhaps involving experts.
    • Provide for a forum for discussion of the news on your website.

* Selected from the discussion with producers that took place on June 8, 2004 during the Prix Jeunesse International and from guidelines developed by BBC/Newsround, ZDF/KI.KA/ logo!.


Esra, a 10-year-old girl from Germany

Esra, a 10-year-old girl from Germany:
In the words of these children:

"We don't want war"
"Peace is very beautiful"
"Say no"
"War is no solution"

"There is no more qualitative and important task and mission than spreading the culture of peace to our children."

Dr. Ghassan Abdallah, Palestine