Journalists observe children's rights

  • 2000-02-03
  • By Antra Linarte
RIGA - "Journalists are the eyes, ears and the voice of the public, as champions of human rights they draw attention to violations and encourage governments and others to make changes that will improve people's lives," says The Media and Children's Rights book devised by PressWise.

Last week Latvian journalists met for a three day seminar from Jan. 27-29 to speak and to exchange their experiences in reporting on issues involving children.

The seminar in Riga near the Dome square was organized by UNICEF and PressWise, the UK-based media ethics body with a mission to encourage media professionals to consider how best to protect the rights of children and to help children to play a role in mass media.

According to the unofficial statistics from the National Centre for Children's Rights in 1998, there were 3,871 cases in Latvia where children's rights were violated.

Dace Kezbere from Latvian Radio and TV council said "Latvia's media do violate children's rights. How often? It is difficult to say because we do not have any official statistics on it."

Kezbere said that they are working on it. There was a conference last year about rights violations in the TV industry – how that affects children. "This seminar, and other seminars we are organizing for media in March especially for TV news journalists, because they are the ones who most often break the conventions of children's rights."

The idea for the seminar came from UNICEF about five months ago and in cooperation with PressWise was realized with the support from the National Centre for Children's Rights.

"There have been many scandals in Latvia which involve children so we thought that it would be very useful for journalists to find out more about media ethics when reporting these kinds of issues." said Iveta Misina from UNICEF. "And particularly for a journalist who does not have a degree in journalism."

"UNICEF is one of the biggest international non-governmental organizations in Latvia that protects children's rights. We are a state institution, and if we as a state institution want to reach our goal it is very important to cooperate with NGO organizations, and of course, with media," said Inese Vakse from the National Center for Children's Rights.

"There are many reasons why this workshop is needed. All of us know that media is 'the fourth estate' (the first three being the state, the clergy, and the nobility), and we have to respect it. It is very important for journalists in Latvia to know the basic principles of ethics and to understand children's psychology when talking about sexual abuse." she said.

The seminar was run by Mike Jempson, of the PressWise Trust organization and Maisha Frost a British journalist, who has dealt a lot with children's issues.They reminded journalists that by providing children with opportunities to speak for themselves – about their hopes and fears, their achievements, and the impact of adult behavior on their lives – media professionals can do more to remind the public of children's rights than by depicting them merely as silent "victims" or charming "innocents."

Aivars Auzins from Latvia's Television pointed out that the leaders of the seminar frequently emphasized how important it is to remember that children are special, and that we journalists are responsible for the consequences that follows our contact.

"This is a difficult area, and at the moment we are actually looking at how to develop the course which can be used in many different countries," said Mike Jempson "We didn't come to give you the answers. We came to ask you the questions, really; and I hope that some of your experiences you can give back to us, because we need to pass your experiences on to other people."

"I am dealing with these problems every day, so for me it was very important to see how foreign journalists work, and how they follow the law. I am sure that the situation in Latvia is not the worst," said Maija Pohdneva, reporter from the Riga evening paper Rigas balss.

Maisha Frost said that even for a journalist in England, the idea of a children's right convention is very new and that not only the post Soviet countries need to follow this course.

"As we know that the issue about children's rights is quite big at the moment in Latvia, we expected to see many journalists, but were disappointed when we saw five, some times even three, actual journalists showing up." said Inese Vakse "We are not going to give up. We are going to look for other ways to get the media's attention. This was just our first step."

Mike Jempson said at the end of the seminar, "If we are going to be the voice, eyes and the ears of the public, the public is going to trust us. They should be able to question our motives some times." He suggested that what Latvia needs to be thinking about is what sort of system needs to be developed which would allow anyone from the public, who is critical of the way journalists do their job, to have some independent forum where that could be discussed.