Does the media demonise kids or are the authorities?

By Jon Slattery

Editors have counter-attacked after being accused of running only negative stories that “demonise” children and young people.

at a conference on “Children’s rights versus press freedom”, they
highlighted how growing fears about paedophiles are preventing the
local press from publishing stories and pictures celebrating the
success and achievements of the young.

Ex-Bath Chronicle editor
David Gledhill told the conference: “The press cannot talk to children.
We are not allowed to take pictures or talk about their successes. A
whole generation of children will not exist.

“When I was editor
of the Chronicle there were endless arguments with head teachers.
Sometimes there were good reasons for not publishing pictures or a
story, but on the main it was head teachers scared that a paedophile
would get hold of it and do something nasty.

“I don’t subscribe
to that, paedophiles have been here for ever and will always be, but we
cannot remove children from the world so there is no paedophilia.”

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell backed up Geldhill’s view and claimed editors’ “biggest concern”

was not being allowed to take pictures in schools of nativity plays and at sports events because of an “overprotective”

attitude to children.

would be amazed by the number of calls I get from editors saying, ‘We
want to show how well the kids are doing, but we are not being allowed
to do it,’ ” he said.

Gledhill defended the press’s right to
“name and shame” youths subject to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, when
magistrates have ruled they can be identified.

He asked: “How
does a young mum in a park know that a 10-year-old who just came into
the playground is likely to throw stones at the children?

“How does the shopkeeper know that the young girl who just walked in is likely to abuse them and the staff?

“Unless they know who they are, how can further offences be reported and the ASBO enforced?”

said the police had supported the Chronicle, but he did say he would
like to see research that examined the effect “naming and shaming”

had on those subject to ASBOs.

Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, told the conference:
“Most media images of young people are negative. We demonise them. That
is the dominant image of young people.”

He argued: “Most young people who get into trouble are multiple victims of most of the adults they come into contact with.

magistrates allow reporting restrictions to be lifted so there is
massive publicity in the local press, in most cases it’s

“We find young offenders are coming into
young offenders’ institutions brandishing newspaper articles and local
authority leaflets with their faces on as a badge of honour.

have the mark of Cain indelibly stamped on their foreheads. I tell
magistrates it is not productive [to lift reporting restrictions].”

Foulds, former chair of the British Association of Social Workers,
claimed social workers were “quite frightened and wary” of journalists
and said children were “sentimentalised, demonised or sexualised” in
the media.

Gledhill said social workers were scared of contacting
the press because it could cost them their jobs and that laws to
protect whistleblowers were not effective.

Satchwell argued if it
was not for journalists, such as Charles Dickens, exposing scandals
involving the treatment of young people, “there would still be children
being sent up chimneys.”

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