Dáil na nÓg Fairsay campaign

The Youth, Media and Democracy conference concluded yesterday at Dublin Institute of Technology. There was an excellent program, with presentations from youth groups using a variety of media–film (documentaries, personal stories, what-ifs), comics, hip hop, remix (VJ-ing, web video mashups), object animation, radio, and more. There were also interesting talks about the Fresh Film Festival, media policy, the 5th World Summit on Media for Children held in Johannesburg, the Story of Movies, Digital Hub FM, and much more.

I was also impressed with the Dáil na nÓg campaign to encourage mainstream media to provide more balanced coverage of youth, especially to show the diversity of youth activities and not just negative images. A small group of Dáil na nÓg representatives has conducted this campaign, called Fairsay. They’ve had multiple meetings with media and policy makers, assisted by Anne O’Donnell from the Office of the Minister for Children.

Dáil na nÓg means “youth parliament”. Young people come as representatives of their local area to tell decision makers in Government what they think of issues that affect their daily lives.

The young Dáil na nÓg representatives gave excellent presentations and participated fully in panel discussions, demonstrating by their presence how young people can learn social responsibility, communication skills, and connected understanding through active civic participation.

So, it’s ironic that the Fairsay work is only partly sanctioned by the schools. For example, when they were waiting for a media callback they had to have their mobile phones on vibrate during class. When a call came it had to be taken down the hall in the study room. The classroom might be a place to teach about government or media, but not to actively engage with it.

Any teacher knows the many distractions available today for young people, mobile phones being near the top of the list. Still, it’s unfortunate that we can’t find better ways (this applies to US schools even more) to make actually participating in democracy take precedence over just talking about it. The young people at the conference showed how they could use media in diverse ways to move beyond the spectator role to become active participants.

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