Not only is it insensitive to interview children at the site of a disaster or stressful incident, especially if they were directly involved in the event, but doing so will result in unreliable information. Senior and former BBC journalist Masud Alam stated this at a training session organised for journalists on Tuesday.
He strongly cautioned reporters against employing stereotypes or clichés while dealing with children. He also said that always treating children as victims, as is often done with women, will perpetuate a self identity of victim, which is very dangerous, Alam explained.
He urged the participants to be objective and not let their perceptions colour their reporting.
Trainer Tazeen Javed shared that there were 2,595 cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) reported in Pakistan in 2010, according to a report prepared by Sahil, an NGO. But this is not the worst of it, she said, as the data is based solely on reported cases of extreme forms of abuse, such as kidnapping, rape, sodomy and murder. The actual number of CSA cases are believed to be much higher and journalists have little clue on how to report on these issues, she added.
Journalists from 22 news organisations, including seven news channels, nine newspapers and four news agencies, were briefed on the ethics of reporting on child exploitation.
Trainers at the session said that following international standards in reporting anyone below 18 years of age is considered a minor and should be allowed the sensitivity, courtesy and protection that children need. They said that protection of identity is at the core of the code of ethics and agreed that news and print media treat issues of such sensitive nature callously. Media policies, the trend of sensationalism and lack of resources were cited as the main reasons for sub-par reporting.
The training was organised by Intermedia, a media development organisation, with the support of UNICEF. The training is the first one in a series of trainings to be held in all provincial capitals of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2012.
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