11 September 2007

Doing news about children isn't always easy: students say

University students majoring in journalism and mass communication learned about child rights and ethical reporting about children. © UNICEF-Thailand/2007/Rob Few
Story by Nattha Keenapan

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – The first time Kanoknipa Wongjai covered a news story related to children, she spent hours with a group of them in a crowded on-line game shop in an effort to get some of them to talk to her.

Kanoknipa, a third year Communication Arts student at Chiang Rai’s Rajabat University, who was gathering information for a news story about the impact of on-line games on children, said trying to get the children to open up to her “was not at all easy.”
“It was my first time interviewing children,” said Kanoknipa, whose assignment was undertaken as part of a child rights training workshop for some 50 aspiring young journalism and mass communication majors from universities in northern Thailand. “At first, I didn’t realize that I had to make a real effort to make them feel comfortable with me. If I hadn’t made that effort, they would have hardly even talked to me.”

The three-day training workshop in Chiang Mai was organized by the Isra Institute, a local press development organization, and UNICEF. The training focused on providing the students with a better understanding of child rights and ethical issues involved in reporting on children.  Another 110 students from other regions took part in similar workshops held earlier in August in September in Nakon Sri Thammarat, Chon Buri and Mahasarakam. 

Trainers and facilitators for the student workshops were drawn from a pool of 30 professional journalists who underwent several days of intensive training on child rights and ethical reporting organized by PDIT and UNICEF in June.

At the Chiang Mai workshop, the students were provided with an overview of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the rights of children under the Convention, and the role and responsibility of journalists in ensuring that those rights are respected.

The training focused mainly on those rights related directly to media, especially the right of children to receive suitable information and the importance of not violating children’s privacy and dignity when reporting on them – issues that most of the students had not been aware of previously.

“I never knew before that I need to protect identify of my news source, such as children who are victims of violence,” said Chardasumin Kumyod, a third year journalism student at Rajabat Phibulsongkram University in Phisanulok Province. “I thought that if I did not provide the full details, the story would be less reliable. But now I’ve learn that there are other ways to present news story without violating anyone’s rights,”

Mark Thomas, Chief of Communication for UNICEF, said that a lack of knowledge and understanding on child rights can often lead to irresponsible and insensitive reporting. Such news reports cannot only mislead the public but can also cause a long-term negative impact on the lives of children who are in the news, he said.

“Although the Thai media is already doing a pretty good job in this respect, UNICEF and PDIT believe there is a need to further sensitize the media on its role and responsibilities,” Thomas said. “In addition, a more responsible and more child-friendly media will help us promote improved understanding of child rights among the general public.” 

After learning about child rights and ethical reporting and photography at the workshop, students were given six hours to gather information and write news stories related to children. Some of the students chose to cover current child-related problems in Chiang Mai, such as the growing number of street children. Others covered more positive stories, such as a local newspaper written by children and a hill tribe school where children grow local herbs and develop herbal products.

In the workshop’s concluding session, students shared their views and comments on one another’s news reports. They discussed how their stories promoted or perhaps violated children rights before the trainers gave their comments and feedback on the assignments.

“I think this workshop has made students studying mass communications, whether they are journalism students or not, realize the power and impact that media can have on children and whether the media is promoting or violating child rights,” said Mongkol Bangprapa, a veteran Bangkok Post journalist who managed the training for Isra Institute.

More importantly, Mongkol said the training showed students how to make news stories to attractive and beneficial to the public without violating the rights of children. 

The workshop ended with students saying goodbye to one another.  In addition to making new friends, the students also went away with a new awareness and sensitivity toward children.

“Now, I learned that I have to be careful when reporting about children,” said Pattarada Rittang, a third year journalism students from Chiang mai University.

“Not only that children are vulnerable but they also have feelings. I have to be considerate and make sure that my report will not pose any negative impacts to them,”

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