What Do Disney, Al Jazeera, and BBC have in common?

A collaborative study compares global children’s media.

By Melanie Breault ’11

Though it may not seem like it, as children watch their favorite television programs -- Hannah Montana in the United States, the Banana Splits in the U.K., or Sahat al founoun in the Middle East -- they are being influenced for the rest of their lives. Despite few academic resources on the subject, Katalin Lustyik, an assistant professor of television and radio, has made it her goal to bring the topic of children’s media to the forefront of global media studies. To mobilize this effort, Lustyik attended the Global Fusion 2009 Media and Communication Conference last October 16 – 18 at the University of Texas in Austin, where the conference theme was “New Directions in Global Media and International Communication.”

“We can’t have a conference theme like this without looking at children’s media,” says Lustyik. “I think of children’s media as a lens through which you can examine the society we live in, its values, and its priorities.”

With that in mind, Lustyik pitched a research project to her European Mass Media class on the topic, “Disney, Al Jazeera, the BBC, and the Global Children’s TV Landscape,” and invited students to participate as co-investigators.

Joe Bagliere ’11, a television and radio major, volunteered to take a closer look into the corporate workings of Disney’s youth programming.

Daniel Haack ’10, an integrated marketing communication major who worked at Channel 4 in London during a spring 2008 semester abroad, chose to investigate the BBC. “The BBC maintains high educative quality in both its general and children’s programming,” he says. “Examining and researching the media’s effect on children can allow us to understand how the media can be harnessed or controlled for either children’s benefit or detriment.”

Susannah Faulkner ’11, a politics major who has already done research on the Middle East, was interested in looking at the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC) and its offshoot, Baraem. JCC is a Pan-Arab educational network established in 2005 that broadcasts in all Middle Eastern nations as well as throughout Europe, targeting viewers between the ages of three and fifteen. “JCC does not always explicitly promote Islamic values; instead, they try to stress family, tolerance, and peace,” she says. “If it becomes another staple children’s channel throughout the world, the stigma on Islam could slowly be eroded.”

The group continued their research during spring break at the headquarters of JCC and Baraem in Education City, Qatar, where they met with network officials and interviewed local children about children’s media. “As Americans, we are so used to the mass-produced commercialization of Disney and Nickelodeon products,” says Bagliere. “How is this network different? What’s its influence, and what’s its main mission as an organization? This is just some of the information we hope to gather.”

Upon their return, Lustyik and the students have been working on a five- to ten-minute documentary and a research paper on their findings, thanks in part to a James B. Pendleton Student Research and Production Grant through the Roy S. Park School of Communications. Three students joined the team to assist with pre-and post-production work: Carly Willsie ’10 (journalism), Jeff Goodwin ’10 (television-radio), and Daniel Sitts ’12 (cinema and photography).

“I’ve been so amazed by some of the undergraduates I’ve taught here,” says Lustyik. “I’ve collaborated with scholars and academics before, but what I really like about this project is that I feel like the students and I are on the same team.”