Guide for journalists

"All journalists and media professionals have a duty to maintain the highest ethical and professional standards and should promote within the industry the widest possible dissemination of information about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its implications for the exercise of independent journalism." - The International Federation of Journalists

Media is closely linked to freedom of expression (article 13), which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information. Article 17 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) more specifically links the right to access to information to the media - the State should ensure the accessibility of information and material from a variety of sources and should also protect children from harmful materials.

At its thirteenth session, on 7 October 1996, the Committee on the Rights of the Child devoted a day of general discussion to the topic "The child and the media". The Committee had identified three main areas for consideration; encouragement of the active participation of children in the media, the protection of the child from harmful influences through the media, and ways to improve the image of the child through media reporting.

On the basis of the discussions, 12 main recommendations were formulated by the Rapporteur for the thematic day Mr. Thomas Hammarberg. See the report on the general discussion - CRC/C/57, paras. 242-257.

Journalists can change attitudes towards children

The media is a great tool for the realisation of children's rights.

Media portrayal has a profound impact on attitudes to children and childhood, and is an important influence on adults' behaviour towards children. Even the images children themselves see influence their expectation of their roles in life. The integrity of the child needs to be respected in media reporting.

Journalists have to take special measures when dealing with children not only to protect them, but also to give them an opportunity to speak for themselves. Journalists have a big role in changing the image of children as silent, helpless human beings in need of protection. They can give children a voice!

Journalists can lead the process of change

There is no specific mention of journalists’ responsibilities in the CRC, but as watchdogs for the public, media professionals have a special role to play when governments ignore their obligations towards children.

The media can lead the process of change. Reporting on issues requires that adequate time and resources is given to investigations, and there is consistent follow up over time so that it stimulates the readers into making an informed opinion.

Journalists need to get familiar with the rights involved, as well as the social and economic environment in which the violation happened.

When reporting, the focus should be on the rights of children and the impact of their reports, instead of the ratings and financial gain. Each child should be treated as an individual human being and the media should help remind the public of the respect every child deserves.

Certain questions or behaviour might harm children

When interviewing children, journalists should know that certain questions or behaviour might harm children. This should be taken into consideration when using images or names of children. They should avoid certain question such as those that might be judgemental or discriminating.

Further reading:

Examples from the International Federation of Journalists guide:

The distorting lens

An international NGO organised a media visit to a refugee camp, where photographers took pictures of weeping children. Their pictures appeared across the world the following day.

The NGO press officer was mortified to discover later why the children were crying. They thought that the long lens cameras were guns and that the photographers were soldiers who had come to kill them.

Photographers had created the very fear they thought they were simply recording.

Children can be made villains by the media

In a survey of five Taiwanese daily newspapers, a general hostility towards young prostitutes was discovered.* Out of 133 news items about arrests for offences involving underage prostitutes, 34% used unsympathetic headlines, and 35% were unsympathetic in content, using language such as childish; selling herself; deflowered; doesn’t study but sells her body and slut. Researcher Chai Hui-Jung concluded that crime reporters do not see the juveniles as minors, and rarely as victims, but judge them by adult standards. The same reporters were tolerant towards their clients in 91% of the headlines and 71% of the reports did not refer at all to the clients who were sexually exploiting the children.

*Teenagers’ Sexual Crimes and News Analysis, Chai Hui-Jung, August 1995.