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  • TV as Children’s Spokesman: Conflicting notions of Children and Childhood in Danish Children’s Television around 1968
  • Helle Strandgaard Jensen (bio)

“It is our job to see the world from the point of view of children and the young since they in contrast to adults have no pressure groups; we have to be their spokesman.”1

Policy paper, the Children and Youth Department, Danish Broadcasting Service, 1968

“We are not the teachers’ spokesmen, but the children’s. This is also established in the guidelines which the Board of Directors has made for our department: ‘the producers should try to step into the children’s shoes, take their problems seriously, and suggest solutions if such are available . . . The Board finds it reasonable that children make themselves heard—even though their criticism of the milieu they live in might sometimes be hasty, [and only] sometimes right.’”2

Director of the Children and Youth Department, Danish Broadcasting Service, M. Vemmer, Politiken, 1970

Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s (DR, Danmarks Radio) new Children and Youth Department (B&U, Børne- og Ungdomsafdelingen) was established on April 1, 1968.3 The new head of the department, Mogens Vemmer, declared that it should produce a new kind of television that would make B&U “children’s spokesman” and “present the world from their point of view.”4 With this statement, B&U took one of the most radical viewpoints of that period regarding the relation between children, adults, and society. By seeing children as a social group who had the right to have its interests represented in the public sphere, [End Page 105] the producers established a separation of children’s interests from those of the educational system and the family unit. The role B&U wanted children’s television to play in children’s lives could not have been more different from the norms that had dominated public opinion about children’s media consumption in previous decades. From the end of the Second World War, the key aim of Danish children’s literature and television had been to support children’s educational needs and to support established sociocultural values.5 Despite B&U’s declaration of its new policy, it was unclear what the new focus on children’s interests actually meant in terms of representing the political, social, and cultural viewpoints of children. What children’s interests were was debated and negotiated amongst the department’s producers when productions were being made.6 These internal debates and the contradictory functions of television in children’s lives resulted in new ways of making television for children. During the department’s first years, news programs for children with reports from the Vietnam War and drama series in which children talked back and swore became part of the repertoire.

Interpreting the History of Children’s Television as Childhood History

B&U was founded during a time of dissent and sociocultural change. The late 1960s and early 1970s have, in popular as well as in scholarly accounts, been viewed as a turning point for Danish society—a point in time when established attitudes towards mass media, gender, family, childrearing, and education were challenged and changed.7 The tensions between established and emerging conceptualizations of children, childhood, family, and education, which conflicted and converged in Danish society during this period, provide a backdrop against which we can understand B&U’s wish for change in television production for children—and the simultaneous ambivalence inherent in this wish. In this article I argue that B&U’s desire to be children’s spokesperson needs to be understood as part of childhood history in the period around the ’68 youth rebellion, where the figure of the child was an increasingly potent subject.

In the ‘68 counterculture the ways of the established educational system were questioned in terms of hierarchy and utility, and the nuclear family was questioned as the basic unit of society.8 These questions of and challenges to established systems synergized with transformations within the welfare state itself: child care was starting to be treated as a domain for the public sector, and educational reforms aimed to soften power relations between pupils and teachers.9 Thus, both the counterculture...


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