The impetus to the current project derived from Orientations in the Development of Pan-Arab Television for Children (AH/1000674/1), a 3-year research project (2013-16) led by Professor Naomi Sakr and Professor Jeanette Steemers, University of Westminster, and funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The project investigated the production, distribution and content of screen media for Arab children and their use of it, including use by children of Arab heritage in the UK.
The project’s ethnographic fieldwork with child audiences in the Arab region revealed great ingenuity and resourcefulness in their media use, even among disadvantaged and refugee children; variations in educational settings and outcomes (e.g. between the UK and Arab countries) affected their familiarity with creative tasks but not their critical and reflexive capacities.
The research further found that Arabic screen content aimed at children is dominated by imported animation while locally-made material in other genres is highly didactic and adult-centred; Arabic-speaking children of all socio-economic groupings have eclectic tastes and are highly adept at navigating the Internet to find alternative content (even using voice recognition to overcome language and literacy challenges when seeking YouTube material or games on parents’ mobile phones); local content creators are frustrated at Arab investors’ lack of interest in innovating or taking creative risks.
The project revealed that significant opportunities exist for European creators of children’s content and advocates of children’s media rights to get involved in conceiving and producing material for Arab children, especially those who have been forced to leave their countries of birth. However, the project also found that even European creatives with firsthand knowledge of children’s media production in the Arab region needed help making sense of basic differences between European and Arab media ecologies and approaches to childhood. It is this area that this follow-on project, Children’s Screen Cultures in an Era of Forced Migration: Facilitating Arab-European Dialogue, seeks to address.