Criteria for a Children s Program

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1 FORM ACMA B13 Criteria for a Children s Program The following information focuses on the criteria of suitability for children (CTS 6) against which the (ACMA) assesses applications for C (Children s) and P (Pre-school) program classification. Any applicant seeking a C or P classification for a drama or non-drama program must apply to the ACMA. Decisions about the classification of programs as C or P programs are made by a Member or delegated senior officer of the ACMA. CTS objectives The objectives of the CTS are to ensure that children have access to a variety of quality television programs made specifically for them, including Australian drama and non-drama programs, and to provide for the protection of children from possible harmful effects of television. Criteria for classification The criteria against which the ACMA assesses applications for C and P classification are contained within CTS 6. All programs, whether at provisional or full C or P stage, must meet all CTS 6 criteria. CTS 6 states that a children s program is one which: is made specifically for children or groups of children; and is entertaining; and is well produced using sufficient resources to ensure a high standard of script, cast, direction, editing, shooting, sound and other production elements; and enhances a child s understanding and experience; and is appropriate for Australian children. Classification categories Applications for classification can be made for: Provisional C classification C classification C Drama classification at pre-production stage C Drama Provisional P classification P classification Programs which fail to meet the CTS 6 criteria usually fail to meet CTS 6 (a), (c) and (d). The ACMA, therefore, offers the following explanation of the requirements for intending applicants, with examples and indicators of the type of issues that may arise against each criterion. Whilst noting these examples, the ACMA does not necessarily focus on one specific aspect of a program and refuse classification solely on these grounds. The ACMA is

2 more concerned as to whether or not the program as a whole deals with themes and issues in a manner that is appropriate for the target audience. Although the explanation focuses on C programs, the principles apply equally to P programs. Applicants may contact staff from the Broadcasting Standards Section for further discussion or clarification of the CTS 6 criteria in general terms. This is advisable, particularly when the program is in the early stages of development. It should be noted that more detailed feedback about specific projects cannot be provided outside of the formal application process. CTS 6(a) is made specifically for children or groups of children Made specifically for children The C and P classifications aim to provide programs which actually belong to children, and which children can discern to be programs made for them. C classified programs are different from material produced for a family audience. They are not simply suitable for or even primarily designed for children, but designed specifically to meet children s needs and interests. Programs classified G under the Commercial Television Code of Practice (the code) are deemed suitable for children to watch unsupervised. While G classified programs are not necessarily intended for a child audience, they do encompass a number of family oriented programs. Programs classified as PG are those which are suitable for children to watch with supervision. According to the code they may contain careful presentations of adult themes or concepts but must be mild in impact and remain suitable for children to watch with supervision. The content classification system outlined in the code performs an important but separate function to the requirements of the CTS. It provides a safety net, ensuring that programs are broadcast at an appropriate time of day and helping to ensure that children are protected from exposure to material which may be harmful to them. A C or P classification, on the other hand, is granted only to programs which, by the nature of their content and production approach reflect that they have been designed specifically (as opposed to primarily) for the age range. They tell stories from a child s perspective, tell them in a way appropriate to the cultural framework and age groups of the children being targeted, and tell them in an entertaining way. Made specifically for them means conceived, developed and produced with a specific age group in mind. The issue of age specificity is one of the most problematic in children s programming. Some indicators which may be useful for determining age specificity are as follows: 2

3 the main actors are portrayed as within the age range or, if the main actors (characters) are outside that age range, the issues and themes need to be dealt with in a way appropriate for the age group the production techniques and content need to take account of the developmental stage and special vulnerabilities of the target group. For example, language of a C program should be relevant to the age group to which it is aimed. A program aimed at the lower end of the C age range should not include language which would be better understood by an older group. Language should be easily understood without being overly simplistic or poorly articulated. There is, therefore, a need to be aware of the stages of child development in order to appreciate a child s age level of understanding and the extent to which new concepts and information can be introduced to expand a child s awareness and knowledge. (See also CTS 6(d).) When children are included (particularly in drama programs) they need to be the central focus, rather than incidental props for adult characters. Child characters should be real children who behave according to their ages, rather than children who have the characteristics of adults. The action and script should be child driven. A simple test is to ask whether there is still a story if the children are removed. If the answer is yes, then the program is unlikely to be child specific or child focused. A program does not necessarily have to include children, but whether it includes children or not, the program needs to deal with issues and themes of interest to children and from a child s perspective. Programs can fail because of an adult orientation, overly complex language and concepts, or tedious interviews with adult experts. There may be some confusion about programs that children like and programs that are made specifically for them. They are not mutually exclusive, but just because children enjoy certain types of programs it does not mean that they are made specifically for them. On the other hand, a good children s program will be made specifically for the age group and will be enjoyed by the age group. Animation does not automatically mean that a program is made for children. Some animated programs are a mismatch; the style of animation would appeal to a young audience, but the concepts and language are geared to the older youth through to adult age range. Groups of children targeting particular age groups The phrase groups of children means a C program does not have to cater for the entire C age band. In fact, this would be an unrealistic expectation, as children go through a number of broad developmental stages between the ages of 5 and 13. Three broad, overlapping, bands would be 5 7 years, 7 11 years, and years. These age bands reflect cognitive developmental changes through middle childhood to early adolescence and the changing social contexts of children s lives during this period. 3

4 Whilst children enjoy programming designed for their age range, they also tend to view-up and watch programs that are intended for older viewers, often out of curiosity about the world they will soon be entering into. Given the overlapping age bands and the tendency for children to view-up, it is possible that any one program may be suitable for, and/or appeal to, more than one age band. However, a program designed for a 13 year old child may not be suitable for a 6 year old child, or vice versa. The tweens This is particularly the case given that children in the year age band, also referred to as the tweens, comprise a distinct group within the child audience and have more sophisticated viewing needs as a result of their developmental status and proximity to adolescence. Content for tweens is likely to cater to their outlook, their level of understanding, and their concerns and questions about the world they are on the verge of joining. Programs targeting tweens may therefore deal with a range of issues not suitable for younger children, such as adolescent topics relating to sexual and interpersonal relationships. However, the depiction of such issues must still be in a manner which conforms with the CTS 6 criteria. CTS 6(b) is entertaining The aim of all C and P programs should be to entertain children. A children s program can be drama or non-drama, designed to educate or to be just good fun. The provision of exclusively educational programs is not an aim of the C concept. Indicators of a top quality children s drama may include a good story, humour, unpredictability, and pace appropriate to the style of storytelling. While non drama programs do not necessarily involve storytelling, the ingredients which are likely to contribute to top quality programs in this category are similar to those for drama: humour, unpredictability, appropriate pace and presentation in a contemporary visual style. CTS 6(c) is well produced using sufficient resources to ensure a high standard of script, cast, direction, editing, shooting, sound and other production elements Although money does not necessarily equate with quality it is accepted that without the commitment of sufficient resources the high production values required would be difficult to achieve. The quality objective of this standard means the skilful and professional use of sufficient resources in all areas of production: from initial research of the concept, style and target audience, through the crafting and editing of the script, to the final 4

5 on-screen presentation. In this regard, the question of resources is no different from that for quality family or adult programs. In terms of production, this criterion requires professional casting, performance and direction and maintenance of the child, rather than an adult, perspective. In terms of direction it means using all the craft, skill and technique expected by a sophisticated children s audience experienced in the traditions of film and television. Scripts which are thin, derivative, too long to engage and sustain a child audience, too focused on adults or adult issues, or which contain gratuitous violence or unsafe practices for children would be unlikely to meet this criterion. CTS 6(d) enhances a child s understanding and experience Enhancement of a child s experience can be done in a highly entertaining way, such as through humour and drama. This criterion means that children should walk away from a drama program with something added to their experience or perspective, e.g. a view of friendship, family relationships, school, peer pressure, role models and emotions. Children should also leave game show and magazine format programs, with something added to their experience and understanding, e.g. a view of participation, co-operation and teamwork and interesting things from the world around them. No topic is taboo in itself, but great care is needed in the way such topics are handled. This does not mean that the program must be uncontroversial or sanitised. Children s program producers should understand the emotional, intellectual, social, and other characteristics relevant to specific age groups of children and create programs that address the specific needs and interests of those children. For example, when developing programs it is useful to keep in mind that the reasoning ability of children aged 5 7 years tends to be attached to the here and now. While 7 to 11 year-olds have more developed logical abilities and a broader range of interests and knowledge, they also tend to focus on relatively concrete events and activities. Children aged years, on the other hand, are becoming more interested in the adult world and in ideas and issues of varying degrees of sophistication and complexity. Programs which fail this criterion offer little or nothing to the child audience. Examples of issues against this criterion can include the following: superficial coverage of issues of great concern to children such as the environment pervasive role modelling within a program which does not reflect contemporary life: e.g. females are presented as weak, dependent and unable to compete, males as strong and powerful. However, one-off or individual stereotypes may be necessary and appropriate in cases where these work to add to the storyline or theme being explored within the program and the gratuitous use of violence or dangerous practices. The portrayal of violence or aggression in C programs needs to be strongly justified in the context of the story and sensitively handled. 5

6 CTS 6(e) is appropriate for Australian children Contemporary Australia is a diverse multicultural society and generally, the television experience of Australian children is wide, and, as a result, only a very small number of programs are rejected on this criterion. An example would be a program which is so far removed from the experience of the Australian child audience, in areas such as language, culture, or history, that they would find it very hard to understand. Quality overseas children s programs enrich the television experience of Australian children. However, there is a considerable difference between imported programs which attempt to convey an appreciation of the culture and values of another society, and imported programs which make cultural assumptions about their country of origin with which the audience is not familiar. Such elements include: the extensive use throughout a program of local dialects which are difficult to understand references to aspects of local history, geography and customs which do not provide sufficient explanation of their meaning, context or relevance emphasis on certain social values that are either foreign to, or not accorded the same significance in, Australian society stereotypes which may provide inappropriate models to Australian children. Contacting the ACMA For further information, please contact the Broadcasting Standards Section at the ACMA: Level 5, The Bay Centre, 65 Pirrama Road PYRMONT NSW PO Box Q500 Queen Victoria Building NSW 1230 Tel: (02) Fax: (02)

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