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First UK guidelines for journalists reporting on child abuse launched

Groundbreaking media guidance for reporting on child abuse and neglect in Northern Ireland is being launched in Belfast today (29 November).

An eight-page booklet has been produced by a working group representing journalists and child care professionals including the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers to help with reporting on cases where children have died or have been harmed as a result of abuse and or neglect.

A unique initiative within the UK, it comes at a time of heightened interest in media reporting of child protection nationally and locally with the publication of the Leveson Inquiry into press practice today.

The booklet is designed to provide information for journalists about child protection in Northern Ireland and help the media and child welfare professionals work together to ensure reporting increases public understanding of the issues involved.

As well as background information, guidelines for journalists and case studies, it contains key facts and statistics about child abuse in Northern Ireland that can be used in media coverage.

The guidance has been endorsed by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland.

Carolyn Ewart, manager of NIASW, said: "We hope this will provide a model for best practice for the whole of the UK. Journalists and care professionals can have different priorities and pressures but this jointly produced groundbreaking guidance aims to help ensure they work together in the interest of protecting the rights of children. We are very proud to have been part of it."

Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “This guidance is unique within the UK and was developed with full co-operation between senior journalists and child care professionals.

“This is testament to their willingness to work together to ensure that such a sensitive topic as child abuse and neglect can be reported in ways which will help the public to better understand the issues involved.  

“I believe it marks the beginning of a more constructive working relationship between the Health and Social Care Sector and the media to protect and safeguard vulnerable children.”

Seamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, added: “The guidelines will serve as a constant reminder of the need for care and sensitivity in covering stories relating to children in general and in particular stories involving abuse or neglect.  

“They are being launched at a significant moment in the history of the media. The greatest threat to the freedom of the press comes not from new models of accountability but from those who have abused that freedom, by criminal activity, by disregard for ethical standards, by abandoning the decent values cherished by the vast majority of working journalists.

“All too often the most appalling intrusions have related to children and their families and in that sense today’s launch has a direct relevance to recent events."

The working group behind the guidance said it hoped the guidelines will become a useful reference point for journalists and public bodies reporting on cases of child abuse in Northern Ireland.

A joint statement said: “One of the main problems to date on occasions has been a mutual lack of trust between journalists and those working in child protection.

“We genuinely hope that this document is the first step in a process which will improve this relationship and that this will ultimately lead to better co-operation when tragic stories of children being harmed make headline news."

Click here to view the booklet.: