As a rule, leading news articles about violence against children violate the Journalists' Code of Ethics, state Association of Journalists of Serbia and UNICEF Serbia
Electronic media are more ethical in reporting on violence against and among children than print media. Although most press articles do respect the Journalists' Code of Ethics and the rights of the child, the most conspicuous ones, published on the front page, regularly violate the Code.
The findings of the media monitoring carried out by UNICEF and the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) from 15 July to 20 September 2012 show that nearly one third of articles about the most brutal abuses are mainly published on front pages, indicating sensationalistic intentions.
Underneath an illusion of thematic diversity, Serbian media are still predominantly marked by the “parental“ attitude which faithfully accompanies the deep-rooted rules of power in a conservative patriarchal society – children are mainly objects of protection by adults; stories about them are most frequent when they are not safe and protected, or on the occasions when society “turns the spotlight” on them, such as at the beginning of a new school year (policemen in schools, security cameras, etc.).
When it comes to violence, the most-reported incidents occur in the family and in school, two traditionally child-friendly environments. Violence against and among children has only recently become a more openly-discussed subject, and the standards for press reporting on it are still being established.
During the survey period (15 July-20 September), electronic media did not include any noteworthy report on violence against and among children, while print media published a total of 527 articles about children, of which one third related to violence against and among children. Of this latter total of 162 articles, 37 per cent were about domestic violence, and 5 per cent concerned peer violence. Ethical standards were respected in about two thirds of these articles, but in a little under a third, the Journalists' Code of Ethics, the rights of the child and the best interests of the child were violated. In almost 30 per cent of cases, the complete identity of children was revealed. Unnecessary ethnic identification was noted in more than 15 per cent of cases. It is interesting that 40 per cent of articles were accompanied by photos which most often violated the Code and the rights of the child. As many as 87 per cent of the published photographs clearly show the house in which the abused child lives, his or her guardians, or reveal a settlement, thus making the overall location identifiable.
Experts talk instead of children
As regards daily coverage in the electronic media (i.e. excluding specialized programmes for children), the situation is slightly better than in the print media. When choosing a theme, it is evident that the priority is to follow agency news, which means that journalists rarely impose their own research topics. It is in fact very much the other way around – they try to keep up with daily events (mainly accidents) and specific events, such as the beginning and end of the school year, testing of children for enrolment or routine testing of knowledge, World Breast-feeding Week, the fight against hunger, free HIV tests and the like.
Journalists are obviously not accustomed to collaborate with children. That is why the voices of children are rarely heard in the media, and then mainly as illustrations of the success or failure of adults.
Superficial media coverage intensifies misconceptions and prejudices
Nevertheless, media play a critical role in reporting on the rights of the child, regarding respect for or violation of those rights. By revealing and drawing attention to cases of violence, media should examine waysThe Press Council, which ensures compliance with the Code in the print media that have accepted its jurisdiction, has not received a single complaint about media coverage of children. it could be stopped and, through competent collocutors, propose solutions that perhaps might be heard and adopted by decision-makers. However, it is easier to create a sensation than investigate real causes. A superficial story may attract an audience and capture its attention, but such work can only intensify misconceptions and prejudices.
The most prevalent topics, 69.3 per cent of the total, were related to education and safety problems in schools, while 30.7 per cent concerned violence against and among children (162 articles).
In 67.3 per cent of media articles, violence against and among children was treated in compliance with ethical standards, while in 32.7 per cent, which were almost always leading articles in newspapers, the Journalists’ Code, rights of the child and best interests of the child were all violated. Thus, 32.3 per cent of reports on the most brutal abuses were mainly published on front pages, indicating sensationalistic and commercialistic intentions. When a text was accompanied by a photograph, which occurred in 40 cases in this study, such photographs almost always violated the Code and the rights of the child.
In the second half of July, 113 general articles about children and 32 about violence against and among children were published. In August, 115 articles tackled general topics related to children, and 88 dealt with violence. In September, 137 articles about children and 42 about violence were published.