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‘Children’s Day’ Gets a Local Voice

UNICEF stepped back to allow local broadcasters to take initiative

BLANTYRE, Malawi — The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has handed over responsibility of the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting (ICDB) to local entities. This follows a decision by the organization to stop coordinating its 20-year-old initiative at a global level.

The ICDB, which over the years has been devoted to inspiring the development of quality children’s programs through radio and television shows and special events, increasingly has grown to become a celebration of young people’s participation in the media.

Victor Chinyama, communications chief for UNICEF Malawi, says the change is aimed largely at giving the initiative a touch of democracy.

Five-year-old Asiyatu Sabit presents a program in the Radio Islam on-air studio.

Local voice

“The ICDB was originated by UNICEF some 20 years ago and there were allusions that it ‘belonged’ only to UNICEF,” he said. “But given the changing media landscape, we felt that we needed to democratize the ICDB by transferring it to local ownership, giving resident broadcasters their own voice to better address issues of their region.”

UNICEF thus decided to take a step back and allow local broadcasters to continue the ICDB initiative. “Here in Malawi, for example, we have been discussing with Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), the broadcasting regulatory body, about the possibility of becoming the local body to host the ICDB,” he said.

As a result, explains Chinyama, UNICEF will channel all support through MACRA for the organization of the event, instead of supporting the local broadcasters directly.

In the past many broadcasters considered the ICDB to be a UNICEF day — they didn’t really see it as their day, said Chinyama. “Hopefully by transferring the ICDB from UNICEF to MACRA, we will reach a stage where broadcasters consider the ICDB to be their day and will be able to devote the necessary time and resources to make it even more successful,” he said.

The modifications mean more flexibility. Each country, for example, now can choose a name they deem appropriate for the event — Malawi broadcasters have agreed to call it “Malawi Children’s Day of Broadcasting.” And, each nation can select the day of its choice to hold the event; previously it was held every first Sunday of March.

“Broadcasters will now have the freedom to devise their own subjects and themes based on the issues affecting children in that particular country, as opposed to having to follow a single global theme that in the past UNICEF decided at its headquarters,” he said.

More freedom

While Chinyama welcomes these transformations, he also looks back with pride at the success of the event.

“ICDB has been over the years the day everyone looks forward to — a day where children take to the airwaves to present issues and share opinions in their own language.” he said. “It has offered a break from regular programming.”

Chinyama explains that the initiative has proved to the world that with the right platform children can effectively express their opinions and share issues in a comprehensible way. “It has demonstrated that children are human beings and have an opinion and that their rights should be respected.”

In addition, the effort has helped those children who participated in the event to develop hidden skills and talents.

“Some of the children who started out years ago as ICDB presenters have developed their communication and leadership skills to a level where now as adults they occupy some very influential positions in society,” he said.

MACRA Communications Manager Zadziko Mankhambo says that to ensure quality programming moving forward the regulator will give awards for the best programs of the day and to those broadcasters who effectively involve children in related programs throughout the year.

“The awards will be in form of equipment because we understand that most broadcasters are in need of equipment,” he said.

Mankhambo also points out that the new structure will permit broadcasters to prioritize children from rural areas or those who are underprivileged. In the past broadcasters mainly used children from well-to-do urban families.

Lameck Masina reports on the industry for Radio World from Blantyre, Malawi.