From the National Network for Children, we give additional voice to the appeal made by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) regarding the way tragedies involving children are portrayed. Numerous reports on violence, bullying, family problems, and others are reflected without considering the vulnerability of children. We remind everyone that in conflicts or tragedies, all parties are affected – victims, perpetrators, and witnesses. The rights of all those affected to cope with what has happened without being subjected to unhealthy interest and intrusion into their personal space should not be violated, as such actions would intensify the pain of their experiences.
Here are excerpts from the AEJ’s appeal, prompted by the coverage of the case of the death of a 13-year-old student from Plovdiv.
Media should approach tragedies involving children with great care
The Association of European Journalists draws attention to journalists and the media, emphasizing the need for careful handling when reporting on tragedies involving children.
The ethical code of Bulgarian media contains several provisions aimed at reporting on children. It prohibits media from exploiting the inexperience and trust of children, and recommends not disclosing the identity of children in distress, as well as refraining from interviewing children without the consent of responsible adults. The Child Protection Act explicitly prohibits the dissemination of information and data about a child without the consent of the adults responsible for them, and in cases where protective measures have been taken, written approval from the relevant authority is required. Furthermore, the ethical code of Bulgarian media obliges them to avoid disclosing details about the methods of suicide to prevent imitation. Lastly, media outlets are obligated not to exacerbate the suffering of people in distress.
Unfortunately, some media outlets did not adhere to these principles in their coverage of the case of the death of a 13-year-old student from Plovdiv. Journalists interviewed classmates of the deceased child and published their full names. It is unclear from whom and how they obtained permission to do so. Even if granted access to the school, journalists and their editors should exercise their own judgment on how their actions could affect those involved and make every effort to protect them from potential consequences in this already dreadful moment. It is also necessary to differentiate between what is in the public interest and what is merely interesting to the public, and to avoid disseminating information that falls into the latter category. Sensationalizing such cases is unethical and intensifies the anguish of the families. Furthermore, the uncontrolled reporting of alleged suicide cases can lead to imitation by other vulnerable adolescents.
Moreover, the behavior of teachers and even a representative of the Regional Education Department (RUO) who are quoted making assumptions and speculations on the subject is even more unacceptable, without even clarifying the informational value of such statements.
We recommend that journalists familiarize themselves with the UNICEF and Association of European Journalists’ Guide to Ethical Reporting on Children, as well as our Handbook for Incident Reporting.
Taking into account the aforementioned statement by AEJ, we remind you that a similar appeal was made by the Network of Child Organizations in Serbia (Mreža organizacija za decu Srbije – MODS) regarding the shooting at an elementary school in Belgrade. We also recently published excerpts from the Child Protection Act concerning the case in the village of Ivan Vazovo. Every citizen has both the moral right and obligation, if witnessing improper media coverage involving children, to report it with the aim of prioritizing the interests of the children first and, secondly, considering the public’s interests. Among the organizations to which signals can be submitted are the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria, the Council for Electronic Media, and the Association of Bulgarian Radio and Television Operators (ABRO).