William Bird

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 2008


This profile was prepared when William Bird was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
William believes the media has a significant role to play in ensuring the realization and protection of children’s rights. Since 2003, he has been systematically monitoring the coverage of children in print and electronic media. He is equipping media professionals with the necessary tools to ensure the well-informed reportage of children and children’s issues. In addition, for the first time in Southern Africa, he is teaching children how to monitor media and providing mechanisms to constructively engage children and media professionals to transform field of journalism to be more child rights focused. William is also engaged in advocacy work in shaping government legislation and changing practices of major news outlets in South Africa.

Through his strategy Empowering Children and the Media (ECM), William engages journalists and equips them to become more responsible in their reporting of children and youth issues. Through workshops designed for media professionals, forums with children, and academic coursework, he is training a new breed of child-friendly journalists, and is sensitizing editors and journalists to issues children face from the perspective of the child. Using a rights based approach, ECM facilitates workshops and substantive interaction between media professionals and children.

William’s efforts to involve children as ‘media watchdogs’ and train young people to become critical contributors to media outlets are unique interventions in the field of journalism. His child-focused programming conducts ongoing media monitoring of children by children, and builds children’s critical media literacy skills through workshops and media monitoring. He is proactively and comprehensively changing media culture in Southern Africa and strengthening child rights.

William also has an advocacy component to his new idea whereby he conducts research projects on children and media, and lobbies broadcast houses and the government to become more ‘child-friendly’ in their reporting and legislation, respectively. He designed and disseminated an influential handbook with practical tips for journalists and newsrooms for reporting on children. He has also created an online media advocacy tool that highlights the best and worst examples of media reporting on children in media. William, in conjunction with other media monitoring groups and human rights organizations, has also advocated for legislation change to protect the rights of children within the Divorce Act in South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court. He is successfully changing the way the media reports on sensitive family matters as well as striving to ensure the protection of a child’s right to privacy in divorce cases. William is advancing children’s rights and simultaneously transforming the role and content of the media in South Africa.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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