Consider rights of children when reporting

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BY CATHERINE KARONG’O

The other day I watched with dismay as a local TV station aired a story of a woman – a survivor of domestic violence. To me, it amounted to intrusion of privacy.

But don’t get me wrong here, I do not in any way condone any form of violence but what I learnt in media law and ethics was that, unless one is a public figure, airing such stories are counterproductive. But that’s not my beef; my problem is the children involved in this case.

Two beautiful little girls were shown several times clinging to their mother and obviously shaken as she, in tears, narrated her ordeal. The eldest at most was six years old.

And the question begs, is this really ethical? Tell me, what kind of torment do you think they went through in school? Classmates, teachers, everyone who was watching that channel definitely saw them. How do you think these innocent ones felt when their classmates told them, we saw you on TV?

I would have expected to hear a word from the child rights activists.

Whereas it may be argued that the parent consented, such are the things that we journalists do without due consideration of the consequences.

We have also seen over and over again stories of child sexual exploitation or harassment. I must say here that majority of the journalists make an effort not to mention the name of the child and to obscure the face.

But once you showed the parent, haven’t you exposed the child? I am at crossroads here!

The guidelines for child participation in Kenya states that in all actions concerning children, their best interest is a prime consideration, and that even as we report we are supposed to ensure that children are protected from physical, psychological, emotional, developmental and moral harm.

A regional media code of conduct on Reporting Child Sexual abuse and Exploitation recognises that the existing coverage of children issues often portrays them as victims and exposes the identity of the abused child.

It further notes that some media houses have been reporting such cases in a manner that impacts negatively on the basic rights of child survival, protection, participation and development.

It is therefore a moral responsibility for every media practitioner to uphold the dignity, privacy and rights of a child in every circumstance.

The code of conduct also indicates that one should obtain permission, preferably written from the child and their guardian for all interviews, videotaping and when possible for documentaries and photographs.

Carol Bellamy Executive Director of UNICEF once said: “Each of us has the opportunity as we go about the everyday business of our lives to take the extra moment to ask, how does this decision, this choice, affect the lives of children?"

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