WILL THE REAL JOURNALISTS PLEASE STAND UP?
Journalistic Integrity and the Protection of Children
by Rashad Brathwaite
The Nation Newspaper, on Saturday October 26, 2013 posted an article detailing in excruciating fashion, a sexual encounter between two minors or in the alternative, two individuals who fall under the category of adolescents. From a reading of the Article, it appears that the author, and the Nation Editorial Team considered it of extreme importance that every detail of the incident in a most voyeuristic fashion be described as a rolling film which is in and of itself reprehensible. Further and worse yet, the Nation felt it necessary in the public interest and in exercising its role to keep the public up to date on what it considers to this most pressing and critical matter, that a visual still-shot, albeit with blurred faces of these adolescents, be attached.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable, majority is attained earlier” (article 1). Consequently, adolescents up to eighteen years old are holders of all the rights enshrined in the Convention; they are entitled to special protection measures and, according to their evolving capacities, they can progressively exercise their rights (article 5).
Even where an individual, if one presumes these 2 adolescents have passed the age of sexual consent, being presumably under 18, there is still a heightened responsibility on the part of the Nation Newspaper to ensure stronger protections for individuals up to the age of 18 in its reporting.
The UN defines Child pornography as any representation, by whatever means, of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for primarily sexual purposes. The raison d’être of the Article on the part of the journalist, need not have been primarily or for sexual purposes at all for this conduct to be viewed as worthy of the highest levels of scorn. The complicity in sharing a representation, both visual and written, of a child engaged in real explicit sexual activity which may have emanated from a primarily sexual purpose is sufficient to attract this level of opprobrium.
The merely descriptive article, in no way acts as protective of the best interests of the child. The question which must therefore be asked of the Nation is, “What journalistic purpose was achieved by this article?” Regardless of what one thinks of the conduct detailed in the video; whether immoral, unwise, and/or careless, the article serves only to further expose these children/adolescents within the public sphere. The article is not merely reaching the public which has viewed it but further propagates it. Even if the article was only reaching citizens who had viewed it, addressing what is viewed as the public’s right to hear about an issue about and involving children has to be balanced with the need to respect children’s dignity, right to privacy which is an ethical issue. Journalists should never be complicit in this type of exploitative harmful behavior. The question to be asked and answered is ‘Does my conduct[article] have the potential to negatively affect this vulnerable group? If yes, do not pass go, do not write your article.
The Nation’s ability to reach extremely wide concentrations of Barbadians and other audiences in the digital and print form, ostensibly creates a duty to be both circumspect and vigilant in its reporting of matters which affect children and adolescents as a vulnerable Group. The best interest of each child must be the dominant consideration, including over advocacy for children’s issues and the promotion of child rights more broadly. That is to say, even if this was intended, which it was not, to be some introductory foray into a larger, meaningful conversation, this particular type of narrative is never appropriate. This article is itself a form of violence. The Article without descending into the depths of voyeurism, which it did, could have been something more. A two-line factoid without visualization, and without the rolling narrative of the incident could have set the context for a necessary conversation.
But it did not.
It was not a springboard for a serious and engaged conversation about ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services and information to this group, because clearly sexual encounters are occurring; neither was it about making schools safe environments; nor questioning when the Mandatory Reporting Protocol would be passed into Legislation?; nor when the age of sexual consent and the age of medical consent will be equalized? ; nor why it has taken so long given that this a policy which could be changed without extreme legal gymnastics being required by the State?
The article reaches the very lowest, the nadir of journalistic expression and purpose. It is disgustingly unabashed in engaging in voyeuristic tendencies and the further exploitation of young people in order to maintain/attract higher levels of readership and or viewership. In this era, we simply must demand and expect more of our Journalists. Will the real journalists please stand up? Will they please stand up at least to protect children? Nation Newspaper, Do Better.
A link to the Nation News article has been removed. Neither Rashad nor CODE RED wishes to be associated with the exploitative journalism of the article.
Rashad Brathwaite is a 22-year-old youth activist from Barbados and a graduate of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree in International Development Law and Human Rights.