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Children in the media

Manasi GopalakrishnanAugust 13, 2012

The Delhi High Court issued new guidelines for the broadcast of news about children after a complaint about an infant who was shown on television as she was brought into a hospital with multiple injuries.

Eleven -year-old Anita poses for a photograph after her marriage
Image: AP

The Indian media will not be allowed to reveal personal details of children who have been victimized or who feature in stories concerning sexual offences, elopement and drug abuse.

According to the new guidelines, "The media shall ensure that a child's identity is not revealed in any manner, including but not limited to, disclosure of personal information, photograph, school or locality and information of the family including their residential or official address."

The rules, submitted to the court by a committee, also asked the media to not sensationalize stories about children. They require journalists to be conscious of the consequences of revealing sensitive information about child who are victims or who are connected to a crime.

The guidelines also say that the media must ensure the right to privacy of a child so that he or she may not be exposed to anxiety, distress, trauma or social stigma in the future.

In January this year, a-two-year-old battered baby was brought into a hospital in New Delhi. Media reports disclosed her identity and also that of a young girl who brought the baby to the hospital.

A lawyer then filed a petition saying that the media exposure was a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, according to which no report in any broadcasting medium is allowed to disclose the identity of a minor in conflict with the law. The Delhi High Court then appointed a committee which submitted its guidelines.

Journalists are being asked to be more sensitive about what they portrayImage: Fotolia/picsfive

Insensitivity or ignorance?

The Indian media has not been very discreet about children's identities. Notable cases include the recent investigations into the murder of a teenager, whose photographs were widely publicized by the media. Another case in 2004 involved a teenager who was mentally bullied when her videos were circulated among her schoolmates. Some channels even publicized her name.

Ritu Jain, magistrate at the Delhi Police's special unit for women and children said that publicizing a child's identity only creates problems and doesn't offer any solutions. "There is no advantage for the child if his or her identity is made public. No one offers her any assistance, only the court or the police can help her and the child is reduced to just a name."

Jain believes that revealing a child's identity makes him or her a subject for discussion and this may have an effect on his or her future - especially when it comes to getting admissions in school and college.

Hunger of a growing media

The Indian media is expanding rapidly. According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, media is expanding at 11.4 percent every year, a pace that is one of the highest in the world. This is one reason why the media constantly needs new people with new skills.

Senior Journalist Qamar Waheed Naqvi believes this is one big reason why it is getting difficult to sensitize the media towards such issues. "If you look at the way the media is expanding and at the institutions of training, it's not necessary that all institutes take such issues into account. "

Indian newspapers
The Indian media is undergoing a period of rapid expansionImage: Getty Images

Naqvi says that there is no regulatory authority in India which ensures that all institutes teach the basics of sensitivity to their students.

Ritu Jain also believes that the media needs to be sensitized and many journalists themselves do not believe they are doing any harm by revealing the details of a child when they are reporting on a crime.

Naqvi says that most journalists are ignorant, and "by the time they become sensitive to such issues, it is already too late. The mistake has been made and the damages have to be dealt with."

And will the new guidelines be successful in ensuring protection to children? Naqvi believes that the new guidelines will at least help create awareness among journalists and such blatant revelations of a child's identity will be much lesser in the future.

Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Editor: Richard Connor