Sun | Dec 3, 2023

Bloggers slammed as rogue journalists

Coverage of children, sex comes under scrutiny

Published:Wednesday | February 1, 2023 | 1:12 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter

Social-media bloggers have been criticised for often publishing unsubstantiated claims that impede the work of traditional journalists when reporting on society’s vulnerable, particularly victimised children.

“Those who have cameras, tripods, GoPro, whatever it is, they are doing things that totally undermine what we are fighting to keep proper on our side,” George Davis, immediate past president of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), said at the organisation’s public forum dubbed ‘Children, Sex and the Media – Regulation and Responsibility in the Digital Age’.

Section 4 of the Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists and Media Organisations prohibits reporters from interviewing or taking photos of children under the age of 18 without the consent of a parent or guardian.

And Section 5 restricts the press from identifying minors who are involved in sexual offence cases, whether as victims, witnesses, or defendants in a trial, or in any news report of a case involving a sexual offence by an adult against a child.

But public education and special projects manager at the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), Latoya Minott Hall, said that these principles are not adhered to by social-media bloggers.

“These individuals that have named themselves ‘journalists’, without any formal training and without any formal experience, and in some cases, too, propagating information that they would have collected from the traditional media, spinning it with what they have created, and that is the influence quite often that our children have to contend with out there,” Minott Hall said.

“... We want those persons who put information in the public space to be careful of what you put out there. Children are like sponges, and whatever it is that we feed into them is what they will actually regurgitate to us,” she said.

Meanwhile, Warren Thompson, director of children and family programmes at the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), urged the “unregulated reporters” to be more mindful about the content they publish about children.

He branded YouTube and TikTok commentators who put people at risk as “unethical”, adding that many of their sources were questionable.

Even so, Thompson reminded traditional media of the moral responsibility that comes with that status.

Noting instances where the identities of vulnerable children have been revealed in conventional media, he urged the press to consider the long-term psychological impact that publicity can have on a victimised child.

“We have seen in the media instances where there are children whose identities would have been exposed and whose sexual abuse would have spurred a lot of public outcry and dissenting voices,” he said.

Youth advocate Christina Williams believes that journalists should also get more training and mentorship in reporting on sensitive matters.

“It cannot be that we have a hands-off approach to say that they are just inexperienced,” she argued.

While acknowledging that “there are mistakes in the space” from traditional media, Davis maintained that mainstream organisations are strong advocates and gatekeepers for content that protects children.

“The reality is, we want to be perfect. Right now, because there are mistakes in the space, we are only fairly good,” he said.

And while acknowledging that the Internet remains essentially unregulated, Cordel Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, said that his agency has been working on measures that will improve the country’s digital literacy.

“We understand that content flows across platforms and devices and jurisdictions and that it made absolutely no sense to be fixed on the traditional platform without paying attention to the broader reality,” Green told the audience.

“So we have pioneered a digital media and information literacy skill framework for Jamaica that looks at the literacies and will be promoting to the Government that digital media and literacy should be a key response in the digital economy and society.”