Following growing incidences of abuse of children affected by humanitarian crisis in the North Eastern part of Nigeria, key United Nations agencies have urged media practitioners to avoid reports which can cause stigmatisation of children and compromise their rights.
This was made known by Doune Porter, Chief of Communication, United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF), who explained that humanitarian principles are basis for reporting in emergencies.
Porter who spoke during a two-day dialogue tagged: “The Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead,” specifically told selected journalists who were from different beats – Health, Judiciary, Human Rights and Life, to employ terms such as children used as ‘human bombs,’ not ‘suicide’ bombers.
He advised media practitioners to adopt what she described as ‘do no harm principle’ and follow a checklist of questions for reporting emergencies.
She told reporters to make the best interest of the child, gender dimension and some ethical consideration a priority.
She decried reference of children used in bomb attacks as ‘suicide’ bombers.
In her presentation titled; ‘Ethical Reporting of Affected Populations in Emergencies, Some Quick Reminders,’ Doune Porter, Chief of Communication, United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) urged journalists to adopt ‘Empathy versus sympathy’ strategy in their reports.
Porter said; “Sympathy is subjective, implies pity, can be judgmental. Empathy is objective – calls on us to put ourselves in the position of the person. Stories can be passionate and ideally should drive action.
“A humanitarian imperative comes into play when reporting on a humanitarian crisis. This should colour all decisions you take.”
The UNICEF Chief of Communication described humanitarian principles as basis for reporting in emergencies, stressing, “Fundamental Principle – Do No Harm,” is critical.
She advised; “Even though conflicts whether between combatants, groups, politicians, organisations or individuals makes a great story, do not promote it.
“Do not represent an individual story as a trend. Do not stigmatize and categorise subjects of your story, example. “BH children” “BH wives” “Muslim violence” “bad blood”… This could lead to additional physical or psychological harm, or to lifelong abuse, discrimination or rejection by their local communities.
“Neutrality – maintain balance. Keep your politics in check. Do not take sides. Your stories, reports, editorial judgement should not betray whose side you are. This is more in humanitarian crisis caused by conflicts.
“People in humanitarian situations may have lost everything – do not take away their dignity,” she added.
Porter further counselled journalists to remember that individuals in humanitarian situations are not as ‘media savvy as we are.’
“They may not know to insist that something they say is off the record, for background only, or that they should remain anonymous.
“You have a duty to protect the subject of your story. Pay attention to their right to privacy and in some circumstances, to confidentiality – especially children.”
She urged journalists to change the name and obscure the visual identity children as the case demands.
“Avoid questions, attitudes or comments that are judgmental or insensitive to socio-cultural values or that endanger or expose your subjects to humiliation.
“When reporting on events that involve personal grief and shock, adapt your questions to reflect the spirit of compassion and discretion and does not reactivate the pain and grief of traumatic experiences.”
She also said; “The dignity and rights of every child must be respected in every circumstance; Obtain permission from the child and his/her guardian for all interviews, videotaping, photographs;
“Ensure that the child or guardian knows he/she is talking with a reporter. Explain the purpose of the interview and its intended use – including any socio-cultural or political consequences of the report.
“Do not publish a story or an image which might put the child, siblings or peers at risk even when identities are changed, obscured or not used.
“Try to make certain that children are comfortable and able to tell their story without undue pressure.”
The event brought together experts under the auspices of the UN Systems – the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and International NGOs (INGO forum) to provide updates on roles each is playing in assisting Nigeria rebuild the NE.