Age and content advisories for Afrikaans books for children: results of a first qualitative and quantitative investigation

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Censorship is the practice of suppressing or controlling the creation of and/or public access to artefacts based on their content – for political and/or moral reasons. Such artefacts include the fine arts; performing arts, including film and theatre; the art of words, science, and journalism; and digital products such as computer games and websites. In South Africa, the Films and Publications Act 65 of 1996 (South African Government 1996) provides the framework for controlling films and publications in South Africa. This includes the imposition of age and content advisories for films and television programmes (f-ACAs) by the Film and Publication Board (FPB). They do not control only films and television programmes in the traditional sense, but the 2019 amendment also specifically caters to newer technologies and types of publications (such as the content on social media platforms and streaming services). However, no similar advisories exist for books (b-ACAs), although this is the practice in the United States of America, for example.

The aim of this investigation is to determine what Afrikaans speakers think and feel about b-ACAs for books for children. Three methods were used in the investigation (two qualitative and one quantitative), namely (1) an interview with a publications control and legal expert; (2) an online focus group (made up of various individuals from the publishing value chain, including authors, a publisher, and a purchasing manager); and (3) an online questionnaire (with Maroela Media serving as the main platform for the online investigation).

The initial phase of the research involved a one-on-one interview with a publications control expert, which served as the basis for the subsequent qualitative and quantitative research. According to the expert, it is the responsibility of government institutions, such as the FPB, to safeguard consumers, particularly children, against inappropriate and potentially harmful content and to enable the broader South African community to make informed decisions. Nevertheless, the final decision to comply with the guidance (e.g., f-ACAs) given by organisations like the FPB remains with the parents, who can determine what exposure level they deem acceptable for their children. He also suggests that if parents choose to disregard the recommendations, it would be advisable for the parents to assess the film or book for themselves to establish its appropriateness for their children.

During the online focus group, it became apparent that the actors in the publishing value chain believe that b-ACAs are not meaningful unless they relate to the intended reader’s reading ability, but that the end users (i.e., the intended readers) would find them potentially useful. This was confirmed by the results of the online questionnaire, which was aimed at end users only, by statistically analysing the questionnaire data using the standard Kruskal-Wallis test.

These end users, of which those with children make up the majority and serve as the largest demographic determinant, believe that b-ACAs can potentially be valuable and beneficial and indicate that they should preferably be displayed visibly on the front or back cover of the book. Although the possibility of a digital advisory service (similar to Common Sense Media, for example) was presented to the questionnaire participants, the majority of participants believed that these b-ACAs should preferably appear on the front or back page of the book, probably because they would like to have all the relevant information available to them in a central place without having to consult a digital advice service elsewhere before they decide to purchase a specific book.

They further indicated that these b-ACAs must be determined mainly by authors and publishers, since they will already have written and selected the books with, among other things, a specific target audience and genre classification in mind. However, the onus ultimately still rests with parents to decide to what extent they want to consider these advisories in their educational tasks.

These results indicate an evident divergence between the viewpoints expressed by the online focus group, which were strongly against the implementation of b-ACAs, and those of the end users, who expressed a strong need for b-ACAs. The divergence could be attributed to the different contexts in which the participants were invited to engage in the investigations – members of the focus group were requested to participate in their professional capacities as representatives or spokespeople for different sectors in the publishing value chain, whereas the survey respondents predominantly conveyed intuitive opinions from a parenting perspective.

This article reports on important results and deductions from an initial, investigative, qualitative, and quantitative investigation (i.e., that there is a need for b-ACAs among predominantly parents) that should be investigated further. For instance, additional individuals within the publishing value chain may be engaged, or this value chain may be broadened to encompass other pertinent sectors. Such sectors may incorporate, for instance, individuals from the Department of Basic Education who can provide viewpoints on the criteria for the submission and selection of recommended reading materials, as well as educational psychologists, reading specialists, and legal experts. Furthermore, we also posit that it would be beneficial to ascertain the needs and attitudes of underaged Afrikaans readers. In addition to the evident rationale of obtaining insights from the intended audience who may potentially be directly impacted by future b-ACAs, this demographic also represents the readers and consumers of the future and could be the source of valuable insights.

Keywords: age advisory; book; censorship; content advisory; publishing value chain; standard Kruskal-Wallis test


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans:

Ouderdoms- en inhoudsadvies vir Afrikaanse boeke vir kinders: resultate van ’n eerste kwalitatiewe en kwantitatiewe ondersoek

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