Child Rights for Students of Journalism
“Their advertisement promised that there would be lions and tigers, but when we came to the circus there were not any” - that was not a child’s complaint to his parents. It was an accusation statement of a five year old boy in court – a court case which found the advertisers guilty of false description. This story was told by a representative of the Kazakh delegation at the three day Central Asian Forum “Children’s rights and journalism” which started on 24 April 2012 in Kyrgyzstan. It is an exceptional case for the region, but it gave the ground for reflection among the Forum participants representing 10 journalism schools and faculties from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
At the Forum, the long experienced professors and deans of journalism discussed a new syllabus to be introduced into the curriculum of the journalism studies – Children’s Rights and Journalism Practice. The syllabus was developed by the Dublin Institute of Technology in 2008 and then adapted and implemented by 23 institutions in seven countries in the CEE/CIS region including Ireland and Turkey. Michael Foley, professor from the Dublin Institute of Technology shared “I was one of the developers and had a strong belief on the importance of the course, but still was surprised that my students, who are apparently closer to childhood, liked and appreciated it so much”.
The Forum was also addressed by guest speaker Dr. Esra Arcan, from Istanbul University, one of seven universities in Turkey to introduce Syllabus. “It is an option course but about 90 per cent of student chose it and most of my students got excellent marks” she said. It is not only useful but also interesting course with a specially designed textbook and methodological guide for teachers.
For Kyrgyzstan, it is a very timely discussion. The Republic is preparing to switch to the two-grade Bologna system (bachelor and master) and curriculum revision commissions are now working to develop new state standards” explains Dr. Abdygany Khalilov, the journalism dean of the National Kyrgyz State University, “two of us here are members of the commission and we hope to bring with us strong arguments for this useful course”.
Arguments for the course are not difficult to find. Each of the countries represented had a sorry story to tell about how their local media reported on children. “Children are invisible unless they are murdered or murder, rape or raped” stated one professor. “Such issues like working children in the cotton fields are taboo for our media” regretted an Uzbekistan’s participant. “Children are not heard. Adults decide what they should feel and think” reported a representative of Kyrgyzstan.
UNICEF in the Kyrgyz Republic, the hosting organization, hopes that the Forum will unite efforts of individual children’s advocates and create a solid platform for students of journalism to learn how to report on children’s rights, how to interview them and listen to them from the start of their professional careers in order to impact the child rights environment in the country.
Kyrgyzstan has already undertaken steps to implement some sections of the Syllabus as part of other disciplines in the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, in a specialized school class at school no. 12, and as master classes at the Kyrgyz National University. Prior to the Forum, foreign guests had a chance to visit some of the open lessons, talk to students and teachers. “We were amazed at how school age children can debate and argue in the discussion of the child rights” confessed Prof. Noirin Hayes from Ireland.
In addition to the basic course on the children’s rights, the participants also discussed a special attachment to it. It was prepared by Aijamal Arzymatova, a student of law. “Journalists often violate children’s rights simply because they don’t know laws. My task is to prepare a pocket guide with a set of answers to legal questions on rights and responsibilities of journalists in their work with children and in the preparation materials on children”, she explains. It will be a pocket guide for future journalists.
The participants will leave the Forum with plans in their mind and all the necessary materials in their hands, points taken from the experiences of piloting countries and an online platform for further discussion, but the main challenge is ahead; that is to make it work in their own countries so that children and their rights are visible in the media and that journalistic work is enriched by the unique world of childhood that we, adults, often miss in our too serious lives.