“Journalists Should Keep the Child’s Best Interest at Heart”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

The RA Human Rights Defender’s Office is preparing a handbook on the subject of the protection of children’s rights in news coverage at .

It is still in its drafting phase, but the head of the Defender’s Department of Child Protection, Eduard Israyelyan, considers it an important document, because the media environment (including digital media) can become a serious threat to a child’s carefree life. School, family, social networks, media messages, these are elements that help to shape children, and therefore make them vulnerable.

What kind of violations against children’s rights are more common in the media field?

The most common violations are cases where personal information is published. For example, an article was recently published, where it was said that a child was kidnapped and held ransom in the face of their mother’s debt. While they only mentioned the child’s first name, they also reported the place of residence, school, and grade of the child.

Information about the city, school, and grade has since been removed from the journalistic material as a result of intervention. Such violations are frequent in the media field.

Do you monitor the violations?

Of course. Usually, there are cases where the materials mention the child’s low socioeconomic status, the impoverished condition of the child. Also, about emergency situations which take place in kindergartens and schools.

We are now working on a handbook, which will help journalists to avoid violating children’s rights. This handbook is currently in its drafting phase and is being coordinated with media organizations.

Maybe it will take the form of a contract and it will be something like a voluntary commitment made by the media.  

It is based on a document developed by UNICEF, which was translated into Armenian in 2005, and which contains specific recommendations. For example, how should a journalist behave, which angle should they shoot from, what kind of questions should they avoid, etc.

There has been an incident where, while shooting a program, in the presence of a disabled child, the reporter approached the mother and asked, “Have you ever considered abandoning the child?” It is simply unacceptable to ask such a question in the child’s presence.

In Armenia, there are TV stations which show children living in extreme conditions, with the intent of calling the audience to action in helping these families. During the program, they show these children in heart-wrenching situations and in dirty environments.

Meanwhile, the host speaks in a pitying voice. At first glance, the goal of these programs seem to be very thoughtful, but the method of attaining that goal is wrong. Putting a child who is in miserable conditions on display does not have their best interest at heart. Even if those families receive help, it remains the same that nothing will be forgotten. These children will one day go to kindergarten or school and will find themselves in constant stigma.

It is understandable that the image of a distressed child provides for a stable media demand. But there is also the opposite situation, where a child becomes a happy, decorative attachment at large events and in adults’ games.

Yes, we’ve come across cases where children are encouraged to speak about great values and grandiose ideas. It is obvious that those words are not of the child but imposed on them by adults. Recently, there was a report about an eight- to nine-year-old child rapper, and while there was no apparent violation of the child’s rights, the child was clearly not using his own words.   

Let me give another example. ATV’s Semi-Open Windows program is used to throwing children into a severe psychological state with yelling, crying, and brawls. It is simply unacceptable. Everyone knows about it, but no serious steps are being taken against it.

I think that in many cases, parents are not aware of the consequences of participating in similar programs. But of course, part of the blame falls on the program creators, who ought to understand that life goes on after all is said and done. These children will be spoken about for a long time.

It can be stressful for the child, when they become the center of attention in seemingly innocent and “delicious” material and are used as playthings by adults. That was the case of the child rapper. Do you intervene in such cases?

We have no right to directly intervene. If we are approached with an appeal, where a child’s personal information has been disseminated without parental consent, we can help eliminate the violation, but we cannot force the media to fix their manner of working.

Our goal is to raise awareness among more people.

It’s true, outrageous titles and footage get many views and may sometimes bring more income to the media than advertisements, but in any case it shouldn’t be at the child’s expense.

They write, for example, “A child was beheaded in a car accident.” Imagine how difficult it is for the child’s relatives. We urge journalists and social media users to keep the child’s best interest in mind when publishing material about children.

Don’t you think that children and adolescents, who have been exposed to a digital environment since birth, in many cases can protect their own rights?   

Unfortunately, many children are not well-informed about their rights. Consequently, they do not know how to defend them and who to appeal to in cases when their rights are being violated. I came to this conclusion after my meetings with children of different ages.

Children do not know that they have the right to demand that their personal information is not disseminated across both social media and in school. They also have the right to express their opinion on issues regarding themselves.  

Perhaps school is part of the problem, where they are taught not to listen to children, but to subject them into common obedient behaviors. It was part of the Soviet school system, which seems to have not changed.

I agree that the Soviet school system seems to have remained, but there is a new generation of teachers who believe that a student who is aware of their rights will be an active and conscientious citizen in the future.  

A child who does only what they are told by adults will face difficulties in the future.

Our goal is to provide for children’s participation both at home, at school, and on the street.

We have signed a trilateral cooperation memorandum with the Republic of Armenia Ministry of Education and Science and Kaspersky Labs, and we hope that we will soon be able to organize trainings for educators in different regions.

Bullying, that is, aggressive mockery and persecution, is now more virtual.

Yes, that is a problem. According to the law, we can only intervene in those cases where human rights have been violated by state or local self-governing bodies.

In the cases of relations between two children or between a child and their parent, we cannot interfere. But if a child’s rights are being violated in school, then we definitely respond.

Can children appeal to you for help?

All children can apply to us for help. There are many ways to apply. You can apply online or get advice anonymously.

We have a website specifically for children, where they can get acquainted with their rights, get advice, or appeal to the Ombudsman.  

Generally, any person, especially a child, ought to be well aware of the risks before surfing the internet. That is to say, be able to benefit from this huge resource, but to not get into trouble because of it.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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