Get MediaSmart®: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Controversy Around Advertising to Children in the UK

In response to calls for increased regulation of advertising to children (occasioned by concerns over childhood obesity levels) a group of UK advertisers targeting young people have sought to demonstrate social responsibility by providing media literacy education resources for children aged six to eleven through the MediaSmart® initiative. This article draws on Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough 2001) to analyse a selection of publicly available accounts of the 2002 launch and operation of MediaSmart® in order to explore how alternative discursive representations of MediaSmart® construct children and advertising in relation to one another, and how these constructions work to further the social practices of which the discourses in question are part. The analysis concludes that the competing discourses have a stake in the problem of advertising to children remaining open-ended, but suggests that the possibilities of its resolution lie in (a) the incorporation of children's own perspectives in controversy conducted on their behalf by adults, and (b) conceptions of media literacy which are more active and age-inclusive than those evident in the discourses currently available.