Newspaper identifies juvenile victim

17 April 1998

EPC discussed a complaint by the Institute of Human Rights concerning a photograph of a 12-year-old Kert which accompanied an article published in Eesti Päevaleht headlined “Steinfeldt suspected of child harassment”. The President of the Institute Aadu Oll says that publishing the photograph is in breach of the Convention on Child Right. According to A. Oll the photograph clearly identifies the child and thus harms his good reputation. Publishing the photograph can cause the child psychological trauma and further distress.

The chief editor of Eesti Päevaleht stated in his objection that the newspaper had got the photograph from the police, who in its turn had received it from the boy’s stepmother as the boy had been missing.

EPC states that it is not within EPC’s competence to examine the compliance of newspaper materials with international conventions.

But considering the complaint on the basis of media ethics the EPC found that Eesti Päevaleht had breached good journalistic practice. Clause 4.8 of the Code of Ethics provides that victims shall not be identified as a general rule. EPC was of the opinion that juvenile victims can be identified in the interest of the child only. According to EPC this principle was not followed in this case.

Moreover, publishing private details about the child, i.e. how his natural mother had treated him, when the boy had already been identified Eesti Päevaleht breached Clause 4.9 of the Code of Ethics.

The chief editor admitted that the newspaper had got the photograph, as it is customary to publish a photograph of a person when announced missing and again when found. But EPC finds that in this case the photograph serves a totally different purpose - it illustrates the information about the allegation of harassment. EPC is of the opinion that no parallel can be drawn between the context of going missing - being found and the one of harassment. According to the article in question the boy had been found three weeks before the story was published.

EPC deems it necessary to draw attention to Clause 3.2 of the Code of Ethics, which provides that journalists may not take advantage of people lacking experience in relating to the media. In case the boy’s stepmother had provided the photograph for a missing person notice it must not have been used in any other context, e.g. the allegation of harassment.

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