Child Rights and journalism practice
Fostering greater awareness of children`s rights among media workers
Welcome to the resource pages for the region's efforts to embed a greater understanding of children's rights into journalism practice at university level.
The media in the CEECIS region have a different history to other parts of the world, and little consideration has been given to a critically-informed approach or rights-based approach to representation of children or reporting children’s issues in the media. Journalism ethics, central to the curriculum of journalism education in modern western societies, do not feature strongly in the curriculum of most journalism schools in CEECIS and as such neither is there a tradition of an independent, responsible media as a fourth pillar of democracy.
Training has been offered by development agencies, including those funded by USAID, the European Union and others from 1985 onwards. Much of it has been vocational and skills-based and many of the trainers have been working journalists, consultants and trainers, rather than educators. Most was spent on specific training of working journalists, some was used to establish codes of conduct, or help legislators frame media laws. Some funding was used as loans to help establish new media enterprises. However, the trainers employed by these agencies have never tried to find or develop a journalistic voice from within the countries they are working in, because they are charged with promoting Western journalistic practices. They rarely speak the local language, and have little understanding of local journalism or its history. They often have poor knowledge of the political situation within which the people they are training work. Problematically, some trainers have offered advice, which, if taken, could put journalists in danger, such as dealing with police, security forces or criminals, as if it was Western Europe or the US.
Why children’s rights
A report from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 1997 highlighted the absence of children from the vocational training for most media professionals. The emphasis of journalism education has traditionally been on providing trainee journalists with adaptable skills to enable them to survive in a fast changing work environment. Children rarely feature other than as part of training in media law, in relation to coverage of children at risk, or as subjects of feature material.
Various efforts have been made to address this gap including the aforementioned short training schemes including those initiated by UNICEF and other NGOs and child rights agencies. The IFJ itself has been to the fore in raising awareness of the role that journalists can play in promoting human rights and calling attention to the plight of children worldwide. In its 1997 survey of codes of conduct, few mentioned children in the context of ethical issues or dilemmas for journalists. Acknowledging that awareness of the actual detail of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was almost entirely absent from all but specialists in the area, it also advocated that media organizations might consider appointment of specialized childhood correspondents to keep in touch with policy and legislation in the area.
Unquestionably, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the foundation for this impetus towards greater media awareness of children as rights holders. The convention reflects a new vision of the child and childhood. They are human beings and the subject of their own rights. The creation of a convention on the rights of the child reflects a generally accepted rule that the greater the awareness of rights, the more chance there is of securing them. It is in this context that the role of journalism is crucially important. The convention itself pays particular attention to the role of the media in children’s lives. Article 17 acknowledges the important function performed by the mass media and encourages media organisations to disseminate information of social and cultural benefit to the child and to develop appropriate guidelines for ‘the protection of children from information and material injurious to his or her well-being’.
Notwithstanding the role that journalists can play in mobilizing support for the rights of children or acting as watchdogs for the public interest, media professionals are not advocates for any agency or specialists in children’s rights. Their role is to report accurately. The objective of this project is that in so doing, they have an awareness of the fundamental rights of the child.
Children in the media
If journalism standards have been lacking overall in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, what then of the situation for children in the media and child rights? Visibility of children’s issues as well as barriers to participation were highlighted by the Young People’s Media Network as particular areas of concern for countries in the region, as illustrated in the following quotes:
"The media in Macedonia are generally focused on political and economical issues in the country. The social and community issues are not covered enough or at all. The youth issues in Macedonia often are seen from educational or criminal perspectives. We need to make bridges of communication between youth of the region, help to overcome the prejudices and taboos, and to create close relations between young people, no matter of the state borders."
"Young people's interests are not covered widely in Kyrgyzstan. There are only two or three youth TV programmes on Kyrgyz TV. TV channels are not interested in non-commercial programmes. It would be much better if we have more TV youth programmes, more youth media organizations; because there is no other one, besides our Children's Media Center in Bishkek. It would be very good if youth have more youth newspapers. Maybe YPMN will help us; the participants will share their experiences."
Research is currently being conducted by participants in the programme, but results to date indicate that media representation of children in the countries represented is rarely positive. Sensationalist media coverage of children in difficult circumstances with little respect for their rights or welfare is found to be commonplace.
It is in this context that this syllabus set out to provide an academic context for education in children’s rights and journalism which would address both a theoretical understanding of human rights issues as they relate to children and a foundation for a journalism practice that is informed by an understanding of rights and their abuses.
The Dublin Institute of Technology and UNICEF Child Rights Syllabus project is unique in focusing primarily on journalism education in universities and on an educational platform for reforming journalism standards.
Central Asian Forum 2012
Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT)
Welcome to the School of Media at DIT.
For over fifty years, the School has provided innovative educational programmes that combine an essential grounding in theoretical studies, with excellent professional production skills.