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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.


Image by Ubaidillah from Pixabay

Naomi Sakr


Naomi Sakr is Professor of Media Policy at the University of Westminster. She is co-author (with Jeanette Steemers) of Screen Media for Arab and European Children: Policy and Production Encounters in the Multiplatform Era (2019) and sole author of Transformations in Egyptian Journalism (2013), Arab Television Today (2007) and Satellite Realms: Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East (2001). She has has edited two collections, Women and Media in the Middle East: Power through Self-Expression (2004) and Arab Media and Political Renewal: Community, Legitimacy and Public Life (2007), and co-edited two others, Arab Media Moguls (2015) and Children’s TV and Digital Media in the Arab World: Childhood, Screen Culture and Education (2017).


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