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Children Misrepresented in Local Newscasts

A recent study by Children NOW found that local television news broadcasts “under-represent the presence of children in society, distort the level of crime committed by and against children and rarely focus on public policy issues that affect American families.”

The results of the study, released Oct. 23, revealed that although children account for over one-fourth of the U.S. population they only account for 10 percent of all local news stories.
“By rarely covering children and when they do, reporting primarily negative stories, local television news marginalizes many issues that directly impact children’s lives,” Patti Miller, director of Children NOW’s Children & the Media program, said of the study results. “This sends the wrong message to children, parents, voters and policy makers.”
Crime stories accounted for about 45 percent of all stories about children. Eighty-four percent were related to violent crime.
The study also showed that “69 percent of crime stories featured children as victims of crime, even though U.S. Department of Justice data show that the violent crime victimization rate for youth–assaults, rapes, robberies and killing of youth–has declined by half since 1994.”
The violent crime rate for juveniles had been cut in half by 1998 from its high in 1993, according to the Justice Department. Despite the downward trend in juveniles perpetrating violence and being victims of violence, a 2000 Census Bureau poll found that almost two-thirds of those surveyed believed juvenile crime was on the rise.
“By portraying children, particularly children of color, as perpetrators and victims of crime this frequently, local news fosters an environment where children are seen as constantly in peril,” said Frank Gilliam, a UCLA professor and head researcher for the Children NOW study. “This tends to lead to one of two actions by parents and policy makers: either bubble-wrap our children to protect them or support punitive measures against them.”
The Children NOW study was conducted before the Sept. 11 attacks and examined one month of local newscasts in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Seattle and Des Moines. Research shows that 86 percent of Americans get their news from local newscasts.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.