Stories of Impact: Barbara Biggins

The Churchill Fellowship Impact Fund was launched to enhance the outcomes achieved with Churchill Fellowships across all industries and sectors.

Impact Funding, a post Fellowship opportunity, supports selected Churchill Fellows to implement a project of their design to achieve further impact in their field.

Read about our Churchill Fellows’ journeys from Fellowship to implementation in our Stories of Impact:

Concerns have long been held about the impact of television and other screen usage on children’s development and the exposure of young people to programming containing unsuitable content, such as ‘scary trailers’ in family-type programs and gambling promotions. 

The complex subject continues to be explored and publicised by Adelaide-based Barbara Biggins who in 1989 used her Churchill Fellowship to study the production and regulation of children’s television in North America. This research took her to 14 centres in the USA and Canada to study the effectiveness of regulatory measures in the provision of children’s television programs. A particular brief was to look at the effects of television violence on the child audience. 

The report on her findings was aimed at benefiting Australian children, the producers of children’s television programs, regulators, and community children’s TV groups. It was shared widely with key bodies such as the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal Children’s Program Committee, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s National Advisory Council, the Australian Council for Children’s Films and Television’s national membership, and the Media and Communications Council. 

Barbara’s research and conclusions were also published in small screen, the monthly journal of Children and Media Australia (CMA), of which she is Honorary CEO. The online publication is a national review to increase the understanding of policy makers, programmers, educators and parents about the impacts and implications of what children watch. 

In 1986 Barbara was awarded the Medal in the Order of Australia (OAM) for her work in this field, and in 2004 was the SA Senior Australian of the Year. She continues to edit the journal and in 2022 was awarded a Churchill Trust Fellow Impact Funding Grant, enabling her to do further work on the project, including a redesign to expand coverage of news, views, research and other developments related to children and media.  

Barbara Biggins’ Fellowship produced many important findings, including that ‘marketplace philosophy’ failed to effectively cater for children’s needs and interests in the programs provided for them, and that advertising in children’s programs had an ‘adverse effect’ on the range and type of programs provided.  

She also found that the best programs for children were generally provided by public broadcasting, and that decision making about buying programs for children should be conducted by people who understand children’s needs and be separated from decision making about advertising revenues.  

Her visits to research centres and conferences enabled the establishment of an enduring useful network of research contacts.  

TV researchers’ most commonly recommended regulatory solution to the problem of children’s exposure to TV violence was to reduce children’s access to violent heroes,’ Barbara found, recommending that, ‘In Australian terms, this would mean not giving a G classification to programs with violent heroes. This should include cartoon programs, as well as ‘real life’ programs.’ 

She suggested Australia set up an institution similar to the University of Montreal’s Centre for Youth and Media Studies whose brief is to conduct fundamental and formative research, to intervene in the public arena, and to support the development of funded programs in script development, or pilot production.  

Two years ago, CMA supported the establishment of Digital Child, an ARC Centre of Excellence whose program of research brings together national and international experts and partners to investigate children’s digital experiences.  Barbara has an appointment as an Associate Researcher at the Centre.   

Barbara’s Impact support has enabled the review and redesign of small screen. and the publishing of nine issues to mid-2023.  Reader support has been strong, and the journal has been a strong advocacy tool for bringing critical matters to the attention of key policy and decision makers.  

Recent content includes how scary trailers in family-type programs really affect children, Census data on children’s usage of screen-based activities, movie reviews and stories on the online promotion of gambling and of harmful foods. small screen also now includes links to useful resources and campaigns developed by other collaborators in the field, such as the Words Grow Minds campaign developed by the SA Government’s Early Years Taskforce. 

New readers have been added continually and a plan for covering the production costs of small screen has been developed. By end-June 2023 nine issues had been published, with CMA supporting the costs of the July and August issues.  

‘The Impact Funding grant provided a much-needed opportunity to modernise the format and content, and to increase the coverage and impact of small screen,’ said Barbara. 

‘Children and Media Australia runs on a very slim budget and this review could not otherwise been afforded. Many thanks to the Churchill Trust.  

‘My ongoing project has been to promote the healthy use of screens for children,’ Barbara explains, ‘to advocate for quality media content for children and for the prevention of exploitative commercial practices. 

‘Priority activities at present include raising community awareness of the influence of screens on children’s development; the protection of children’s privacy as screen users; the need for a research-based national classification system; and the loss of regulatory measures that promoted the production of quality Australian media for children.’    

Australia’s future rests heavily on the wellbeing of its children. In a world viewed disproportionately through screens big and small, nothing could be more important than providing quality content that enhances children’s lives, as well as properly understanding, and where necessary regulating, the content young people are exposed to and the intentions of those who create and deliver that content. 

Barbara’s Impact Funding grant enabled: initial survey design, setup, launch and analysis; review and design of new format small screen; publication of first issue.

Are you a Churchill Fellow? Do you have recommendations and ideas in your Fellowship report that you’re yet to implement? Do you have a tangible plan for making a difference but need the funding and support to make it happen? We encourage all Fellows that have submitted their Fellowship Report to consider applying for this opportunity.

Use the categories below to filter the search results: