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Youth Media Agency calls for youth representation in Editors’ Code

Posted on Wednesday, 17 April by

Leveson

Lamentably, when the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child carried out their quadrennial inspection on the state of children’s rights in England in 2008, they recommended “urgent measures needed to be taken to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterisation of children, especially adolescents, within society, including the media”.

England is the only country out of the 193 signatories of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to be called out on this issue. With The Editors’ Code of Practice Committee currently reviewing the Editors’ Code, the guidelines regulating the print industry, is it perhaps time that ‘age’ be included as a classification for discrimination.

The Editors’ Code of Practice Committee (ECPC) comprised of national and regional newspaper editors and magazine editors, chaired by Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, are open to submissions for amendments from the public. According to the Editors’ Code website, the Code is a “living document”, the ECPC defines their task as being “responsive” to the times.

The Youth Media Agency (YMA), are currently leading on a recommendation endorsed by 105 youth organisations including the British Youth Council, The Scouts, The Scottish Youth Parliament, National Children’s Bureau and many more calling for age to be included as a classification in Clause 12i (the clause under the discrimination article of the Editors’ Code).

Evidence in over 50 reports and surveys, since 2007 show British youth have been overwhelmingly represented negatively. Children and Young People Now, reported 76 per cent of press coverage of young people is negative (2009). In the same year, Hoodies or Altar Boys? a joint study by Women in Journalism and the independent research company Echo, found there was a polarisation in the portrayal of young males, with the tendency to typify young males as being prone to criminality “heartless hoodies” and likening them to “feral” animals. According to Fiona Bowden, the journalist who presented the findings, the image of hooded youngsters has “become visual shorthand for urban menace”.

Bowden concluded “The teen boys’ ‘brand’ has become toxic: if teen boys were a brand they’d be Fred Goodwin.”

Even the government acknowledges the domino effect of such negative reporting. The Department for Education’s 2011 Positive for Youth report says: “Negative images that present young people as a nuisance can also undermine young people’s self-esteem as well as their confidence in their legitimate and valued place in society – also influencing adults and other young people to develop unwarranted feelings of mistrust.”

“Discrimination against young people in the press has persisted for too long” argues Susana Giner, Director of the YMA , “ contributed by the Press Complaints Commission and the Editors’ Code not being fair and accessible to children and young people. Including ‘age’ in the code is a first and important step to ensure that young people have fair redress.”

Leveson Report protest

Indeed, young people maligned in the press have little recourse for justice, especially those from more vulnerable backgrounds. Currently, the legal situation means a third party cannot complain on behalf of a young person, a crucial flaw, affecting vulnerable young people who may be too scared to complain in person or lack networks for legal representation. This may change with the instruction of Leveson and the now disputed Royal Charter.

Richard Cullen, Chair of UK Youth Voice has said: “Making the complaints procedure more accessible to young people, may improve the negative stereotype portrayed in the press. It is important to appreciate that most young people are hardworking and just want to get by in life which at the moment is tough for everyone. A person should never be discriminated against because of their age.”

Ironically age-based discrimination is already included in the editorial principles of certain newspapers. The Daily Telegraph for instance, includes age as a classification for discrimination in their individual guidelines and even the NUJ Code of Conduct.

Lena Calvert, the equality officer at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said: “As a union of journalists we realise the importance of recognising that age is an issue that needs to be treated as any other equality strand and as such we incorporated it into our Code of Conduct many years ago. Journalists must have regard to the way they report people of whatever age – old and young.”

Surely it would make sense for the ECPC bring their code into line if it’s included in the NUJ Code of Conduct?

On an international level, age is acknowledged as criterion for discrimination in the Code of Conduct for American Press Association Journalists and Photographers and the German Press Code warns against “sensational reporting” of young people. All the more reason to reform the Code.

Evidently, if age in the Code were implemented in the UK it would have large scope, equally encompassing discrimination against the elderly.

The current post-Leveson climate is tough for Editors. With a feeling of disdain expressed by some at the handling of the Leveson Inquiry and the Royal Charter that followed .In fact the ECPC was contacted for this article, but declined to comment, saying “the situation” is “too fluid” to give a meaningful quote.

The youth sector seems to be asking for an alignment of current press values, “It is time we stopped fuelling this self-fulfilling prophecy.” Hiran Adhia, 18. These 105 organisations representing over a million children and young people may end up being a voice they cannot ignore – especially if they want to ‘reflect the times’ which after all is their remit!

Voice your approval for ‘Age in the Code’ here.

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Zaneta Denny

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