Category Archives: ethics

Children in the News

Do journalists remember the do’s and don’ts?
By Rachel E. Khan and Elena E. Pernia
Reprinted from PJRReports, June 2006

According to the National Statistics Office, children below 18 years old comprise about 43.4 percent of the estimated population of 84 million Filipinos.

At the same time, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) country report dated October 2005 noted that the problems facing Filipino children today are “considerable and pressing.”

It noted four core threats to the well-being of children related to health, nutrition, education, and protection. In fact, the country report ventures to say that out of 100 Filipino children: eight will most likely die before their fifth birthday, 30 will suffer from malnutrition, 26 will fail to be immunized against basic childhood diseases, 19 will lack access to safe drinking water and 40 to adequate sanitation while more than 10 suffer from some physical or mental disability or developmental delay, and 17 will never go to school.

Yet, despite these pressing issues, news items about children revolve around only two themes: children as “victims of abuse” or “in conflict with the law.”

Covering children
Last January, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) conducted a study to assess the coverage of children in the local print and broadcast media. A content analysis was made of two nationally circulated dailies and two regional newspapers as well as two evening news programs and three public affairs programs on national television. The content analysis was augmented by focus interviews conducted among media practitioners in six provinces spanning the country. Coverage period for the study was Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, 2005 for print and October to December 2005 for broadcast.

CMFR chose to use the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) “Guidelines for Media Practitioners on the Reporting and Coverage of Cases Involving Children” as basis for measuring the media’s awareness of the need to protect the rights of children. Even if the guidelines do not have the force of law, the responsibility to adhere to it is the test of ethical journalism.

This responsibility falls on both the reporter covering the story and the editor or producer who opts to use it.

The study had three specific objectives: first, to profile the coverage of children (i.e., frequency, type, and location of articles; characteristics of child featured in the story). Second, to determine the extent of adherence to guidelines pertaining to:

respecting the child’s right to privacy and protecting her/his identity and dignity (i.e., exposing the child’s name and other information that may reveal her/his identity, use of photos/footages wherein victim can be identified, use of graphic photographs/video, use of confidential records about the case of the child-victim); and
giving due consideration to the child’s welfare in the pursuit of the story (i.e., seeking permission for the use of a photo, knowing procedures and respecting the authority of government agencies responsible for the care of the child, interviewing a child in the presence and supervision of responsible adults/case workers, and refraining from exploring/exploiting child’s case for fund-raising).
And third, the study was meant to determine the quality of coverage about children, i.e. whether reportage is factual and newsworthy and how sources were used for the story.

Findings from content analysis

• Stories about children make up only about eight percent of the news hole. In the period covered by the study only 40 articles could be culled from all four newspapers. Regional papers had more coverage of children than the nationally circulated ones. Moreover, majority of the news articles, 92 percent, were on the inside pages. The same observations can be made of the broadcast news. Only 11 news stories about children could be culled from the five news programs in the entire period.
• More significant, however, was the fact that there were only two types of stories in newspapers. Children in print media were either “victims of abuse” (80 percent) or “in conflict with the law” (20 percent). On TV, children were portrayed as victims of abuse 100 percent of the time. Abuse ranged from kidnapping to molestation.
• In terms of the news stories’ adherence to the DOJ guidelines on protecting her/his identity, the study noted that majority did not refer to the child by any name. Some articles and TV news clips used a pseudonym or the first name of the child. Unfortunately, the child could sometimes be identified because the names of her/his parents, school or address were given.
• In newspapers, photos were not used with the articles. On the other hand, use of pixelated images (72.7 percent) dominated the news coverage on television. The child was recognizable in 9.1 percent of the video clips and 18.2 percent of the news coverage took footages of other sources, not the child.
• Majority of the stories in both print and TV were straight news (77 percent) and therefore, were pre-sented factually, without use of words that would pass judgment on the child. Only two print articles used words that put the children in a negative light (i.e., “drunk,” “fugi-tive,” “escapees,” “and rugby addicts”).
• However, there was little attempt to expand the coverage of the news to allow the readers or viewers to understand the context of the event. Only a few articles attempted to raise the awareness of the causes of the children’s situation and even fewer were those articles that presented both causes and possible solutions.
• There is no clear evidence that reporters knew procedures and respected the authority of govern-ment agencies responsible for the care of the child. Nonetheless, such knowledge and respect of authority may be inferred from the fact that reporters relied on authorities such as the police, primarily, and social caseworkers, secondarily, as sour-ces of information.
• Only in two cases in print and three cases on TV was the child interviewed. In both media, there was one incident when the interview was unsupervised by a parent or social worker.
Findings from focus interviews
Journalists in Metro Manila, Laguna, Cebu, and Iloilo claim that they had not heard about the DOJ guidelines for covering children as such. However, they are familiar with the guidelines given to them in training seminars conducted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and wonder if that was the same thing.

Journalists from Mindanao “have heard about” the DOJ guidelines for covering children but have not seen a copy of these. Editors say they are familiar with the contents of the guidelines and strive to carefully protect the identity of child-victims and even children in conflict with the law in their stories.

Some broadcasters were able to hear about the guidelines through a training seminar conducted recently by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas. The organization had informed most station managers of the guidelines, but according to the journalists, this had not trickled down to reporters, especially those who are freelancers or block timers only.

Despite the absence of knowledge regarding the DOJ guidelines, journalists interviewed claim that they try to be sensitive to children’s rights. As much as possible, the names of children-victims are omitted from the story and they are not used as sources for the story so as not to add to their trauma. However, at times, journalists claim that their identities are essential to the story. For example, one story ran about a boy whose parents were missing. It was necessary to name the boy so that the story would help locate his parents.

Most print and some TV journalists claim that it is the broadcast, especially radio, reporters who need to be more aware of children’s rights. Oftentimes, reporters interview the child-victim because they need a video or an audio clip for their story. Unfortunately, the child-victim, even if his identity is not revealed, is traumatized by the questioning of the reporter.

Generally, most editors interviewed said that they have a tendency to avoid stories involving children because of the complications involved in writing the story. Since journalists normally write and edit stories on deadline, it becomes too tedious to remember all the do’s and don’ts in covering children.

Reporters and editors have to be conscious that children are not miniature adults and have greater awareness of the impact a traumatic event can have on children.

Children are more vulnerable to trauma because of their size, age, and dependence. Prior trauma, past mental health problems or a family history of such problems may increase a child’s risk. Traumatized children may want to tell their story, but it may not be in their best interests to be interviewed, and in many circumstances it can exacerbate their exposure to trauma. Perhaps, the DOJ could be more zealous in providing journalists with copies of the guidelines, especially to reporters covering the DSWD as well as provincial print and broadcast journalists.

At the same time, there is a need to expand the coverage on children to “good news” stories and those that tackle issues affecting the children’s quality of life. Instead of straight news stories that can sometimes be reported without sensitivity to the child, journalists should explore feature stories that tackle children’s issues with greater depth, help create an awareness of a problem and possibly propose a solution. (re-printed from: CMFR, PJRReports 29 JUN 2006)


to be or not be..ethical

Some students of mine are doing a thesis that examines how journalism ethics is being taught in other schools around Luzon. It bothers me that in most cases the subject is taught much like an after thought and not given real importance. Also, the findings show that ethics is often reduced to a set of do’s and don’ts or limited to the Code of Ethics.

What many do not realize is that the Code of Ethics is just one criterion of being truly ethical. In fact, most of the time it is inadequate because it makes a lot of fuss about the small stuff and misses out on the bigger ethical issues. For me, there are five points in determining if an action is ethical or not:
1. An act is said to be good or bad if it is deemed a crime or fault in the laws of the country;
2. An act is good or bad depending on what the majority believes (e.g. Code of Ethics);
3. The goodness or the badness of an act is determined by one’s conscience;
4. Human nature determines the morality of an act;
5. An act is said to be good or bad according to what God has pointed out in revealing Himself (10 commandments, the Koran..)

These points are not mutually exclusive nor are they the only criteria, but its safe to say that if it passes this five-point test then one is on the right track. Now, if my students in Journ 110 explained these, they are likely to pass the final exam. 😉

Ethics is not a ‘relative’ science

Rome–The foundation of human rights, democracy, and cooperation among peoples and religions is threatened by a growing assumption that there are no ethical absolutes, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Not recognizing that certain ethical and moral principles are naturally part of being human has “enormous and serious consequences on the civil and social order,” Pope Benedict said in a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission.

Commission members, appointed by the Vatican, have been working on a document on the foundations of natural moral law and, specifically, on how those principles form the basis of a “universal ethic” that can be recognized and shared by all peoples of all religions.

“It is not an exclusively or predominantly confessional theme,” the pope said, but is one that is important for all people and for their ability to live together in peace and mutual respect.

Pope Benedict said the commission’s report is an important part of a project being promoted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to encourage universities, associations and individual scholars “to identify useful lines and convergences for a constructive and effective deepening of the doctrine on natural law.”

The Catholic Church teaches that natural law, whose basic norms are reflected in the Ten Commandments, is not moral and ethical principles imposed on people by religion but is rights and wrongs that are part of human nature and can be identified by the use of human reason.

Because the principles are “accessible to every rational creature,” the pope said, they are a secure basis for dialogue and cooperation among all peoples and for the building of societies in which human dignity and freedom are protected.

Unfortunately, Pope Benedict said, modern societies have lost sight of natural law and too many people are convinced that society or the majority of a society’s citizens is “the ultimate source of civil law.”

“Then the problem becomes not the search for what is good, but for power or rather the balance of powers,” he said.

“At the root of this tendency lies ethical relativism, which some people even see as one of the principal conditions of democracy because relativism would guarantee tolerance and mutual respect,” the pope said.

However, Pope Benedict said, history has demonstrated repeatedly that the majority can be wrong and that only reason and openness to perennial moral principles can guarantee a just society.

“When the fundamental needs of the dignity of the human person, human life, the institution of the family and equity in the social order — that is, basic human rights — are in play, no man-made law can subvert the norms written by the creator in human hearts without society itself being dramatically attacked in what constitutes its necessary basis,” the pope said.

Natural law, he said, is “the true guarantee offered to everyone” so they can live in freedom, have their dignity respected and not be manipulated or exploited by the more powerful.

Pope Benedict said there is a need “to mobilize the consciences of all people of good will,” whether or not they are Christians, so that natural law is recognized as the only certain basis for regulating social life.

The pope also congratulated members of the theological commission on their document, “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,” which was published in April.

The document, which emphasized the importance of baptism as the ordinary means of salvation, said the traditional concept of limbo – as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity in happiness but without communion with God – seemed to reflect an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.”

Pope Benedict told commission members, “I trust that the document may be a useful point of reference for church pastors and theologians, and also a help and source of consolation for faithful whose families have suffered the unexpected death of a baby before it could receive the cleansing of regeneration” brought by sacramental baptism.#