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Mar 23, 2004

Guidelines set for media coverage of children

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For better or for worse, children often figure prominently in the Belizean media scene. Sometimes for their proud accomplishments, but all too often as victims or perpetrators of crime or serious accidents. Today, journalists and those involved in the protection of children gathered to work out some kind of ground rules for press coverage.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

When it comes to reporting news involving children, there is no code of ethics to guide Belizean journalists. Instead reporters, broadcasters, and talk show hosts use their own discretion or that of their station managers–a practice that does not necessarily protect the interests of our youngest citizens. Two years ago, the National Committee for Families and Children embarked on an initiative to work along with the media to formulate a document that journalists will use when reporting on minors. Today, the N.C.F.C. presented that draft code of ethics at a media summit.

Judith Alpuche, Executive Director, N.C.F.C.

“I hope that we have some set guidelines that everybody will endorse, that everybody will use in their news reporting. We are looking at the possibility of attaching it on as the regulations for the Families and Children Act to inform the implementation of the Families and Children Act a little better. But we will hope that the media houses that sign on to this will take it very seriously.”

The draft includes twelve guidelines all journalists and media professionals are asked to adhere to when reporting on issues involving children.

Judith Alpuche

“Sometimes when the media inadvertently, because we do not think it is intentional, reveal the identity of children. Especially child victims of sexual abuse etcetera, it has a devastating effect on the cases. Many times because of all the shame and embarrassment involved the family and child withdraws from the public eye because of the publicity, because of the negative publicity, and that also means that often times they will not cooperate with the authorities.”

In her address to the gathering, Minister of Human Development, Sylvia Flores says her government takes very seriously its responsibility as a signatory to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and as such applauds the initiative.

Sylvia Flores, Minister of Human Development

“How many journalists and broadcasters consider the effect on a child when reporting a sensational murder or rape or even robbery that involves children. Sensationalism sells space and time, and if the bottom line is profits, unfortunately the affected child is often sacrificed for the bottom line. Sad to say, sometimes the media on the lookout for sensational items to attract an audience would resort to news items which themselves violate the rights of children and young people.”

N.C.F.C. says because there is such a high turnover of journalists they hope media houses will also use the code of ethics when orientating new reporters. Jacqueline Woods reporting for News 5.

At the end of the media summit a set of guidelines was ratified by media representatives which seeks to protect the privacy of child victims as well as child perpetrators, while at the same time allowing the media to perform its function of providing relevant information to the public.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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