Children and the media
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Understanding how young people see the world around
them and transmitting that vision to the public is one of the most
challenging tasks facing journalists, yet they are rarely trained
to deal with children. They have a responsibility to portray children
fairly, without doing any harm to them in the collection and publication
Balancing the journalistic obligation to tell the
truth with the need to protect children is fraught with difficulties
and ethical questions. Should reporters intervene in the lives of
endangered children? Should journalists interview children after
they have been involved in a traumatic event? Under what circumstances
is it appropriate to fully identify, or obscure the identity of
It is generally recognized that young people's
privacy should be given greater protection than adults, but this
isn't always the case. In many countries there are no laws prohibiting
using the names, words or images of children who have consented
to be interviewed in a public space.
When making judgements about how to proceed, the
best interests of the child should be an overriding consideration.
Journalists should aim to minimize harm to the child, both in the
circumstances of the interview and with regard to the likely consequences
of what is published.
Safeguarding the welfare of children and young
people need not run counter to sound journalism practice. All journalists
need to do is ask themselves some basic questions.
Are under-age children being interviewed
with the consent of adults? Is there a legal context in which interviews
of children may take place?
Has the interview been conducted in a child-friendly
manner, including allowing sufficient time and a comfortable environment?
Have the potential consequences of the child's
comments, both short-term and long-term, been considered and explained
to the interviewee?
Have arrangements been made to ensure that
children are protected after publication, and that support systems
are in place should other children contact the publisher?
Are children told what will be done with
what they say and are they permitted to see the finished product?
With the advent of 'realtime' news coverage, simple
rules for working with young people are vital for staff working
under tight deadlines. The CNN
newsroom has developed a list of half a dozen factors to consider
when deciding whether or not to interview children for breaking
news stories. These include their age and maturity, the degree of
violence involved, the child's connection to any victims, the presence
of parental permission and whether the footage is taped or live.
Children are used to providing adults and authority
figures with what they think they want, which is not always the
same as what children might really want to say. Research shows that
children provide more accurate information when they are given the
time to narrate their stories freely, rather than when they are
being asked direct questions. Indirect questions may provide a margin
of safety for the child.
While it may be wise to ensure that adults known
to the children are nearby when interviewing them, the most authentic
information will be obtained when children are in an environment
with their peers. Nevertheless, it is generally important to obtain
the consent of an appropriate adult (parent or carer) if possible.
Awareness Network has devised a Media
Toolkit for Youth, with a section for young people on Knowing
Your Rights, with advice when they are being interviewed by the
Institute in the United States has posted guidelines
on its website as a free service to all those interested in how
to work responsibly with young people.
the Children UK has published a booklet, Interviewing
Children. A guide for Journalists and Others offering sensible
guidelines on how to interview children. Researched with children
from around the world, it is useful for print and broadcast journalists,
newsrooms and other media outlets.
The booklet has been used in conjunction
with the International
Federation of Journalists and the UNICEF / PressWise handbook
The Media and Children's Rights as part of a training module
delivered worldwide by the UK-based media ethics charity The PressWise
Trust. Notes on interviewing children appear in four languages within
modules posted on the homepage of the Trust's website.
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