“Instead of working in the dark, we should change the light bulb. This project is changing the bulb.”
That’s how Susanne Martin of the European Delegation described a new project launched this week: Children and Media: Championing Best Practice.
Six hundred children across South Africa and Zambia are going to be involved in drafting best practice guidelines for reporting on children, monitoring the media to ensure ethical reporting on children, and leading by example, by practicing as child journalists.
This project by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), Media Network for Child Rights and Development’s (MNCRD), Save the Children, and supported by the EU and Sida, will see experience and skills shared between Zambia and South Africa.
In South Africa MMA has been training child media monitors since 2003, and has worked with media to develop guidelines for reporting on children. These guidelines have already been adopted by Independent Newspapers and approved by SANEF. While in Zambia, MNCRD has been running a Children’s News Agency (CNA) for the last two years.
Each country will now build on these projects, aiming to deliver very ambitious goals in the next three years.
- the training of 540 children in both countries;
- the adoption of child approved ethical guidelines by 15 media houses in South Africa and 10 in Zambia
- that 60 child journalists will have over 300 article published in mainstream media.
As shared skills and experience are at the heart of this project, it was launched in a simultaneous live launch – with partners linked via video. In Lusaka CNA member Brian Phiri explained that he had been involved in another media project before “but that it was all about fun and entertainment, this project is about making a difference.”
In South Africa, Child Media Monitor and child journalist in training Sibonginkosi Dera spoke of her experience critically analysing the media. Of her interactions with journalists Sibonginkosi said that “it was fun but not all our questions were answered clearly” and she’s looking forward to training as a child journalist because she “will be correcting what other journalists don’t do right when they writing stories about children, and [she] will think about children’s feelings.”
MMA Director William Bird told the launch that “sadly, we still see examples where the media seem to seek to violate every conceivable ethical and professional journalistic principle they can think of”, giving an example of a recent Daily Sun article “Love made him kill” (Daily Sun, 25/02/2011, p,12) in which a child who was kidnapped and was a witness to a murder, was named. But he said there are also plenty of examples of best practice reporting and that by working together with media the portrayal of children can be further improved.
Sunday Times Editor Ray Hartley went on to say that already “much of the improvement in how children are reported in South Africa can be attributed to the work of Media Monitoring Africa”.
The Sunday Times editor identified “three critical steps which newspapers need to take to ensure that they are protecting and empowering children on their pages.” These are do no harm, encourage achievement and bring youth into the media. As part of this last element Ray Hartley identified a largely missing link, that is content generated by children for mainstream media, an exciting prospect which this project aims to make a reality.
Over the next number of weeks and months training will begin for children involved in all three elements of this project. In each country there will be brand new elements, and previous projects that will be expanded upon and improved.
According to Regional Director of Save the Children Timothy Bainbridge “this project is one in which children will work with the media to gather more influence, and to change the way the world views them, so that they are consulted more in the decisions that directly affect their lives.”