KARACHI: Do journalists really need to have a code of conduct so that they do not harass victims of child abuse, or can they be expected to rely on their own moral compass when reporting such incidents?
Participants at a workshop on the coverage of sensitive issues that relate to children, organised by the Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) and Child Rights Movement (CRM), pondered the question on Tuesday.
Journalists should develop their own code of conduct, regardless of whether media organisations have their own or not, felt investigative journalist Matiullah Jan, who was moderating the workshop that had been organised exclusively for media personnel. “Every journalist is aware of ethical issues [in reporting], and they should exercise [their best judgment].” He referred to common media practices when it came to reporting serious incidents, like blurring the face of a victim of child abuse, or showing headless or badly mutilated bodies.
However, social activist Rana Asif alleged that the media did not appear to take into consideration the consequences their stories might have on their subjects or sources. He cited an interview of a physically challenged teenager, who was also a victim of human trafficking, by a private news channel. “After the interview was aired, police tortured him and filed a false case against him,” claimed Asif. He added that privacy was the right of every child, and that it needed to be protected.
CRM Sindh coordinator Pirbhu Satyani said that media organisations could play an important role in getting lawmakers to draft child protection legislation and then ensuring that they get implemented. But he warned that journalists should highlight such cases while making sure that they do not compromise the children’s security.
“Children are vulnerable and can be exploited and abused. Journalists should ensure that they are not exploited any further because of the way their cases are presented,” said Satyani. Jan agreed, and said that the media could play an important role in creating awareness about such issues.
Part of the workshop was devoted to pondering over the actual age-related definition of a “child”. Jan observed that multiple laws and institutions in the country were using different criterion over who could be treated as a child.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2012.