Published on bdnews24.com on Nov 11, 2010
Children are often neglected in the media, although they constitute a large segment of the Bangladesh population, a new study has revealed.
The study also found that even when the media reports about them, the coverage mostly depicts the children as victims of violence or repression.
It also revealed that the policies and regulations related to children are mostly ignored by the media while publishing reports. “Rather, many reporters dramatise or sensationalise violence, which impacts them negatively.”
While children are expected to receive special consideration, both the electronic and print media frequently publish reports on their violence or death along with pictures.
These key findings were presented at a seminar at a Dhaka hotel on Tuesday, where speakers recommended development of an ethical code of conduct for media in order to provide proper guidance to journalists in their work.
The seminar was chaired by Dhaka University vice-chancellor A A M S Arefin Siddique in which UNICEF Representative Carel de Rooy was also present.
The study, carried out by Management Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) in association with the Unicef, was conducted during June-August 2009 under a project on ‘Building Capacity of Journalists for Ethical Reporting on Children’.
After monitoring 10 mainstream national newspapers and three TV stations, including the national broadcaster BTV, the study found that the tendency to avoid children related reports results in only three percent news exclusively on children. Just about an eighth of that meagre coverage of children’s issues is in-depth reporting.
A handbook titled ‘Ethical Reporting on and for Children’, was also launched at the event in order to guide media professionals for better understanding children’s issues.
Researcher and journalist Qurratul-Ain-Tahmina said violent and gory reports and photographs leave negative impact on the children.
This negative reporting often scares them and could encourage them to indulge in illegal activities, she added.
Rooy in his speech said, “Something needs to be done to ensure a more balanced coverage since the children represent around 45 percent of the population.”
He said it is necessary for the journalists to prioritise and give more attention to the children-related issues in which their well-being should be kept in mind.
The speakers also recommended that protecting the best interests of children should be a journalist’s primary concern when reporting on them.
The study also shows that in a third of the reports on sexual repression, reporters mention addresses and other information in a way that reveal the victims’ identity, which is a breach of law.
“In some cases, reporters even mention their names,” the findings say. “In most reports, children are portrayed as passive victims and unimportant characters.”
The study says television reporters ignore instances of child repression. They rather seem to focus on certain instances that portray children as the transgressors and offenders.
USE OF APPROPRIATE WORDS
The issue of using appropriate words in reporting was also addressed by the study. It said: “In Bengali newspapers, journalists sometimes use certain words to narrate the gravity of a rape or assault that creates sex appeal and often presents the victim in a disgraceful way.”
Citing an example, it said: “In a report on a child sex worker, the reporter tried to create sympathy for the girl, but used inappropriate language that actually put her in risk of further attacks.”
Moreover, the handbook criticised journalists’ tendency in using unnecessary words and adjectives like — Tokai, crippled, destitute or helpless — to describe a child (either a victim or an offender), saying that those words are often disrespectful to children.
The study also found that in some reports on child repression, a number of newspapers published photographs and information about the accused, though the matter was not proved yet.
As part of the study, two focus group discussions were held, where some underprivileged and middle-class children took part.
The former opined that the media should not use words that demean children, especially the Bengali word Tokai, which is used to describe street kids.
“They should not show murders, torture, child labour or trafficking of children,” saying those reports depress them. “Rather the media should highlight the successes and achievements of children more often.”
The latter group said presence of children’s issues in media was few due to the inactivity of the children’s organisations.
They also found that most reports focus on prominent persons or politics and ignore the children. “This indicates that children are not given enough importance and that adults are not interested in their issues.”
They also alleged that media reports sometimes generalise a whole section of children, terming them as criminals or drug addicts. “Journalists should not do this.”
Moreover, they demanded that children’s rights should be ensured in line with the country’s existing laws, regulations and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.