Reporters' role

Promoting positive messages

Despite efforts by organisations such as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which launched in 1998 its own initiative to encourage responsible coverage of children, this pattern of stereotyping children remains evident on every continent. However, coverage of children rarely features in journalism training because, by and large, journalists deal with adult themes in an adult world for an adult audience. It is unusual to see stories about how new social or fiscal policies might affect children, unless they are about child benefits or schooling, for instance. It is rarer still to find newspapers soliciting comments from young people themselves about the issues of the moment. After all, they are not the primary market for most magazines and newspapers. News is regarded as something primarily for and about adults.

A new generation is growing up, disenchanted with depressing news and misrepresentation of them; with new technology at their fingertips, they are creating their own media online and bypassing traditional methods of media production. We have already seen the creation of online communities and broadcasting channels in Bebo, Youtube and MySpace. And, in 2007, US vice-president Al Gore launched a new cable channel for young people, Current TV, for which the content is entirely produced by young viewers. Mr Gore said it would let viewers "engage in the dialogue of democracy".

Journalists subscribe to a code of conduct, published by their media union, professional association or employer. However, in practice most journalists have a hazy idea of the detail in the codes and rely on a general understanding of their principles. The International Federation of Journalists has integrated child rights into its professional code of ethics and runs programmes in awareness-raising. It supports an international exchange of best practices between unions, countering the commercial pressures on journalists and media for "sensational news" and enabling children to be seen and heard. The IFJ guidelines, Children's Rights and Media: Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Issues Involving Children, were adopted by journalist organisations from 70 countries at the world's first international consultative conference on journalism and child rights, held in Recife, Brazil, on May 2nd 1998. These guidelines will help children to see that journalists do take their issues and views seriously. The guidelines include, for example, the requirement that journalists avoid the use of stereotypes and sensational presentation to promote journalistic material involving children.

By providing children and young people with opportunities to speak for themselves – about their hopes and fears, their achievements, and the impact of adult behaviour on their lives – media professionals can remind the public that children deserve to be respected as individual human beings.