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Media reporting of children related crime events: do’s and don’t

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Rajul Jain, Legal Research Officer,  Shakti Vahini

In the background of the Baby Falak case a committee was constituted by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court to formulate guidelines on media reporting on children. These guidelines were approved by the Hon’ble court and directed to be enforced by various Authorities. In view to make these guidelines binding on the concerned bodies the court vide order dated 5th December 2013 in the case of A.K Asthana vs. Union of India has listed the relevant guidelines and given them the binding force.

The Court’s judgment is in recognition of the fact that sensationalising of news in crimes related to woman and especially children in heinous crimes like rapes, sexual assault etc. can have various long term impacts on the society’s response towards the victim of the crime. Reckless reporting which discloses the identity by use of name, photograph, address etc. may affect the future prospects of the victim to cope with life.

 These guidelines has been formulated in line with some basic principles –namely, an individual’s right to privacy and confidentiality, right to dignity and worth, opportunity of the child to  start afresh and consideration of his best interest. These principles are also recognised under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007 Rule 3. Following these guidelines require having a sensitive outlook towards the problems and needs of the child and not to sensationalise the news. The impact of the news on the child’s future should also be of foremost priority matter. The guidelines set out minimum parameters of responsibility to be borne by print and electronic media in relation to reporting/broadcasting/ publication of news/programs/documentaries etc. on and for children.

The guidelines, which should be followed, by all media persons are follows:

1. Media must verify the credentials and authority of individuals/organizations whose consent is sought on behalf of the child.

2.Media shall not give any financial or other inducement to the child or parent / guardian or others in relation to reporting / broadcasting / publication of news / programs / documentaries etc. on and for children.

3.  Media must balance its responsibility to protect children from unsuitable content with the right to freedom of expression and the right to know.

4.  To protect the identity of the child media shall ensure that any visual showing the face of the child must be completely morphed in cases where privacy /anonymity is required as illustrated in Principle 2.2.above.

5.  Media shall orient/sensitize its editorial personnel, including editors/ editorial team / reporters / correspondents / producers / photographers etc. about laws, rules, regulations and guidelines related to reporting/broadcasting/publication of news/programs/documentaries etc. on and for children.

6.  The media shall proactively promote the children’s right to information and freedom of expression.

These specific guidelines draw force from simple principles like:

  1. That the interview is in the child’s best interest.
  2. That the interview does not aggravate the child s situation further.
  3. That the manner and content of the interview doesn’t affect/interfere with the child s right to privacy.
  4. That if the interview is in the child s best interest, the same shall be done under supervision and consent of the child s parent(s) or legal guardian, or in the alternative, the competent authorities for the child.
  5. That while interviewing a child, his/her consent may be obtained, depending upon his/her age and maturity.
  6. Frequent interviewing of a child must be avoided.
  7. The child s refusal to be interviewed must be honoured.
  8. Before interviewing the child he/she must be duly informed about the purpose and manner of the interview.
  9. The child and/or his/her parents/guardian or any person having control over him/her shall not be coerced or enticed in any manner including financial or other inducement to secure consent for the interview.

 The court in its order has placed the responsibility of monitoring compliance of these guidelines as follows:

“The compliance with the applicable laws, rules, regulations and Guidelines (including these ones) related to reporting/broadcasting/publication of news/programs/ documentaries etc. on and for children shall be monitored by the following:

  1. The self-regulatory bodies.
  2. The regulatory mechanisms of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, such as, Electronic Media Monitoring Center (EMMC) and Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC).
  3. Press Council of India.through their respective procedures.”

 Further the Court in its order has also recognised the need of follow up by the Court regarding the compliance and provided for annual reporting stating the same in the following terms,

NCPCR / SCPCRs shall file a report in this Court on yearly basis regarding the compliance level of the applicable laws, rules, regulations and Guidelines (including these ones) by all concerned.

The foregoing are only broad Guidelines and are not meant to be exhaustive.”

Also the court took cognisance of the fact that most guidelines and even laws which are enacted do not gain much publicity and awareness and hence are not properly implemented; the court thus addressing this stated that:

The Department of Information and Public Relations of all State Governments and U.T. Administrations, the Directorate of Field Publicity, Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Prasar Bharati (AIR and DD), Self Regulatory Bodies etc. shall give due publicity at appropriate intervals to the laws, rules, regulations and guidelines (including the Guidelines) related to reporting/broadcasting/publication of news/programs/documentaries etc. on and for children.”

Media can act on various fronts to bring about awareness and make the public at large sensitive towards child rights. Also there are a number of actions which the media should restrain from doing and can’t be stated exhaustively. However, the section below attempts to enumerate a set of general guidelines that should be kept in mind while dealing with children and reporting.

 General do’s and don’ts for the media

The Press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual, unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest, not being a prurient or morbid curiosity.
2. Caution against Identification: While reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women/females or sexual assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.

  1. Minor children and infants who are the offspring of sexual abuse or ‘forcible marriage’ or illicit sexual union shall not be identified or photographed.
  2.  Ensure Sensitivity on Child-Related Stories.
  3. The identity of children infected and affected by HIV should not be revealed. Nor should their photographs be shown. This includes orphans and children living in orphanages, juvenile homes etc.
  4. Keep in mind the rights and best interests of the child. Promote a
  5.   positive attitude towards the victim.
  6.  Make programmes relevant to various target segments.
  7.  Focus your programmes – emphasize on one or two messages.
  8.  Before filing a story, consult resource persons and organisations in the area.
  9.  Treat the subject with understanding and sensitivity.
  10.  Be positive in the portrayal of the child, he/she is a victim and not a party to the crime.
  11.  Be aware of various legal provisions, laws and regulations with regard to child rights.
  12.  Remember, though the child is vulnerable and voiceless, he/she has the same human dignity, rights and worth as any adult.
  13.  Meticulously verify your stories and sources.
  14.  Identify ways to deal with problem situations.
  15.  Provide clear action points for viewers.
  16. Promote gender equity and the rights of the girl child.
  17. Create awareness and demand for support services.
  18. Focus attention on the gravity of the crime.
  19. Make programmes to encourage a wider discussion of the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Ensure that these are broadcast/televised/published in a sustained manner.
  20. Don’t disclose the identity of the victim or the victim s family.
  21.  Don’t sensationalise or glorify acts of sexual abuse or exploitation of children.
  22. Don’t make the child re-live the abuse by asking him/her to recount the
  23.   abuse/exploitation.
  24.  Don’t re-victimise the child by repeated or incessant questioning.
  25.  Don’t depict the child as insignificant.
  26.  Don’t treat the child as a sexual object.
  27.  Don’t glorify either the crime or the offender.
  28. Don’t project the child as powerless or without legal support.
  29. Don’t stigmatise the child, family or community.
  1. When in doubt about whether a child is at risk, report on the general   situation for children rather than on an individual child, no matter how   newsworthy the story.
  2. In certain circumstances of risk or potential risk of harm or retribution, change the name and obscure the visual identity of any child who is identified as:a. A current or former child combatant,
    b. An asylum seeker, a refugee or an internal displaced person.

 Do no harm to any child; avoid questions, attitudes or comments that are judgmental, insensitive to cultural values, that place a child in danger or expose a child to humiliation, or that reactivate a child’s pain and grief from traumatic events.

  1. Pay attention to where and how the child is interviewed. Limit the number of interviewers and photographers. Try to make certain that children are comfortable and able to tell their story without outside pressure, including from the interviewer. In film, video and radio interviews, consider what the choice of visual or audio background might imply about the child and her or his life and story. Ensure that the child would not be endangered or adversely affected by showing their home, community or general whereabouts.

  (The aforementioned general dos and don’ts are drawn from various documents like:

  1. THE NORMS OF JOURNALISTIC CONDUCT 2010
  2. NHRC UNICEF Report (A Guidebook for the Media on Sexual Violence against Children)
  3. UNICEF GUIDELINES ON ETHICAL REPORTAGE)

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