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Children’s documentaries: distance and ethics in European storytelling about the wider world

A Research Paper by Naomi Sakr and Jeanette Steemers, published by Journal of Children and Media

The material challenges of funding, commissioning and distribution that are well known to inhibit production of children’s factual content about other countries and cultures operate in parallel with challenges arising from the moral responsibilities inherent in what Roger Silverstone called “the problem of proper distance”. By that he signified a “moral category” requiring filmmakers to provide “context as well as imagination” and be willing to “recognise the other in her sameness and difference”. “Distance” and “difference” have become at once more significant but also more ambiguous at a time of mass forced migration, in which traditions, religions and cultures from distant places are brought together in physical proximity. Based on input from cross-cultural dialogues, screenings and interviews involving European producers of children’s documentaries, this article explores dilemmas and experiences faced in representing the backgrounds and stories of children who arrived in Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the mid-2010s. It shows the resonance of Silverstone’s thinking by revealing that many practitioners themselves apply notions of closeness and distance, both physically and metaphorically, in their choices about combining the familiar and unfamiliar and co-creating content with child participants.


Naomi Sakr


Naomi Sakr is professor of media policy at the University of Westminster. She is also director of the Arab Media Center at the university’s Communication and Media Research Institute. She is the author of Transformations in Egyptian Journalism, and has written and edited several other books on Arab media.


15 September 2021
Research Area
Published By
Journal of Children and Media
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