Journalists have the power to shape how our society perceives stories of child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and INHOPE wants to promote best practices on reporting about CSA/CSAM set by child protection organisations. We are always looking for ways to grow our impact and work together to combat CSAM online, as well as to reduce the revictimisation of those impacted. In this article, we explore the key elements of journalism and how our current media policy and media guidelines campaign supports the core ethics, credibility and role of journalists.
While how we consume content has changed over time, the role of journalism has not (American Press Institute, 2022). Journalism is about representing society through credible reporting that develops trust with the reader. The information we consume must be reliable and verified using professional standards and this is fundamentally what differentiates journalism from fiction. Journalism should be both interesting and relevant; engaging content does not mean clickbait or placing false significance and we need to stop stories that sensationalise CSA. Journalism is society’s source of information, and the quality of the content distributed should be set to a high standard. Stories on CSA cases are not isolated and by framing CSA and CSAM thematically we are able to clearly inform the public of the existing and growing risks around child abuse and exploitation.
Now, more than ever, journalists are not the only people with the ability to speak to a large audience. Therefore, in the day and age of influencers and social media, it is essential that journalists maintain independence. The fact is that we are overwhelmed by tackling stereotypes, sexual versus factual content and misinformation that is driven by individual opinion. And, CSA is not a type of porn, CSA is abuse and victims of CSA have a right to privacy. We must always remember that a child cannot be held accountable nor can a child consent to sexual activities.
Journalism is representative of society and therefore generally deemed as a trusted source of information that relies on objective methods to gather insights and verify facts. Of course, we know that ultimately the story is being written by an individual who will exercise their personal conscience in the stories they report, which is why a balance is required. As individuals, we all have different views and experiences, and a balanced story provides fairness, encouraging discussions and opinion sharing. By stimulating debate on CSA and CSAM, we can determine how to tackle this individually and collectively.
What distinguishes journalism from our own content is the motive and intent. Journalists employ methods to verify “truth” consciously and systematically while we as individuals all assess the strengths and weaknesses, and how that influences us differently.
At INHOPE, the aim of our Shaping the Story campaign is to promote the application of media guidelines on reporting around the world, while encouraging the reporting needed to spread the word on these crimes and increase public awareness on what to do if they come across CSAM online. And, we need journalism to assist us in navigating the world around us by providing comprehensive news on essential societal issues like CSA and CSAM.
Find out more about the work of INHOPE at www.inhope.org.