The purpose of the protection of minors in the media is to assess media content for its potential to do harm and to regulate its public dissemination. This is intended to minimise influences from the adult world that are not appropriate for the stages of development of children and adolescents and to support young people in developing their personalities.
On the basis of legal foundations and the insights of educational and psychological or other relevant research, monitoring bodies such as the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media review media contents with regard to adherence to socially prescribed values and standards. The protection of minors in the media is consequently a value-based and value-maintaining construct. The repressive measures of the protection of minors in the media are intended to protect, above all, children and adolescents at particular risk, for instance because they come from socially deprived or violence-prone families.
Safe space for positive development
Children and adolescents have a right to special spaces in their lives that are separate from adults, where they are protected from negative influences. This allows young people to experience their feelings, inclinations and needs without interference from the adult world, to form their own identity and to integrate into the existing social structures. Safe spaces in the media are created through the legislation on the protection of minors in the media. In Germany, this is based on the Federal Protection of Young Persons Act (JuSchG) and the “Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Human Dignity and the Protection of Minors in Broadcasting and in Telemedia” (Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors – JMStV). European legislation, specifically the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS Directive), contains provisions for securing the protection of minors in television and on-demand services.
Besides the statutory protection of minors in the media, fostering personal media literacy of children and adolescents plays a very important role as a preventative measure. The protection of children and adolescents in the media is closely linked to educational measures for fostering media literacy among children and adolescents, but also among their parents, education professionals and providers. Media literacy is an essential component of the comprehensive protection of minors in the media; it cannot, however, replace supervision.
Challenges to supervision
The protection of minors in the media faces enormous challenges. For one, contents relevant to the protection of minors in the media are increasing due to globalisation, media convergence and technological progress and so is, therefore, the need to act to protect children and adolescents. In addition, the huge quantity of media content and the predominantly digital, cross-border transmission channels are making it ever more difficult to devise effective control mechanisms. This confronts institutions dealing with issues of the protection of minors in the media with complex situations, both in Germany and internationally.
Social consensus as the foundation
A great deal of content that is subject to discussion within society cannot be complained about as it is within the legally admissible limits despite pushing the boundaries. Ultimately, the legal regulations themselves are always a reflection of the current state of society as they partly derive from the discourse about ethical limits. They consequently play an important guiding function, as the protection of minors in the media can only be exercised via a social consensus.
This illustrates another important function of the protection of minors in the media: raising awareness in society. Measures for the protection of minors in the media also always have a declaratory function. Every time a breach is punished and made public it revives the debate about contents in society at large. Through this debate, society reaffirms its values by deliberating about which type of content children and adolescents can be expected to cope with and which not.