Protecting children in the news

Protecting children in the news

As a journalist, a parent and a teacher, I was concerned and troubled by the handling of coverage of a protest at a Wong Tai Sin primary school this morning (23 May 2015) at which a pupil was photographed and recorded while crying and upset.

As a journalist and a journalism teacher, I firmly believe it is the duty of journalists and news organisations to seek truth and report it without fear or favour, I am also keenly aware of the need to minimize harm, especially when a story involves minors and other vulnerable people.

In this case, protesters demonstrated outside the primary school which had arranged an aptitude test for a 12 year-old mainland-born boy who has been given temporary papers to reside in Hong Kong. The boy claims to have been living illegally in Hong Kong for nine years.

Posters with slogans such as “Selling-out Hong Kong” and “My classmate is an illegal immigrant” on stuck to the exterior of the school. After the protesters left, some pupils tried to rip these slogans off. One girl, upset that her school had been targeted, faced the cameras of assembled news media in tears.

Photos and video of her have since been posted on numerous news websites and broadcast on television, with no attempt made to hide or disguise her appearance. She has now become a target of suspicion, vitriol, condemnation and even abuse online.

In Hong Kong’s current highly-charged political atmosphere, this is unsurprising, therefore, we urge the news media to be more aware of the potential harm such media exposure can have on young children. Primary students cannot be expected to be fully aware of the possible consequences of expressing their views in the media.

Journalists and editors should take this into consideration in covering this story and others involving children. It should be noted that the UNICEF guidelines on reporting on children states:

In interviewing and reporting on children, special attention is needed to ensure each child’s right to privacy and confidentiality, to have their opinions heard, to participate in decisions affecting them and to be protected from harm and retribution, including the potential of harm and retribution.

These principles should be a foundation for ethical reporting on children.

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