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The ethics of the media’s coverage of Roma families

by on November 13, 2013

In October, Ireland’s Garda and Health Service Executive took two Roma children into custody, despite their parents’ protests that the children were theirs. Later, DNA tests proved that the seven-year-old girl and two-year-old boy that were removed from their homes were in fact the children of the respective couples.

The Irish news media’s coverage of these cases has raised serious ethical questions regarding privacy, as well as whether the publication of the children’s pictures was in the public interest.

In an article published earlier this month in the Irish Times, Charlie Flanagan voices his opinion that some of the news coverage not only violated these ethical principles, but also treated the families like they were on reality television.

Flanagan says that although the parents gave their consent for the publication of the children’s photos, he questions whether their consent alone is enough to justify publication. He references the code of practice of the Press Council, which is widely accepted by Irish media outlets. The code states that journalists should be sensitive to the vulnerability of children, bear in mind the age of the child, whether or not parental consent has been obtained, and the circumstances that make the story of public interest.

“I fail to see what public interest is served by splashing images of innocent children across the news media in a way that not only discloses their identity but places them under spotlight and scrutiny,” he writes.

Furthermore, Flanagan argues that officials should not give this sort of private information regarding children to journalists unless it is in the public interest to do so.  He concludes that there needs to be a balance between open and investigative reporting and the protection of individuals’ rights to privacy.

Do you think it was in the public interest to publish pictures of the children? Should obtaining parental consent be the deciding factor of whether or not to publish the photos, or should journalists focus more on the children’s vulnerability when deciding to publish them? Finally, do you think exposing this story was in the public interest, or was it an invasion of the children’s privacy?

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2 Comments
  1. This is definitely an interesting case, because like dealing with victims/survivors of crimes, writing about children requires an extra measure of sensitivity. I think that journalists should consider children’s vulnerability in addition to the legality of publishing certain information or photos. Parental consent is not always completely informed, because they may not realize that allowing the photos to be used means they will be plastered over the front pages of newspapers and magazines. Pictures definitely drove home the issue of the potentially discriminatory actions of the Irish Garda and Health Service Executive in taking the two Roma children from their homes and families; the actions are shocking on their own, but tied to the faces of two small children humanizes the issue and makes it easier to empathize with. More people will pay attention to the story if they remember what the wronged children look like, especially if there is a lot of media attention to the story and the questionable nature of using their photos. It was in the public interest to expose this story, but I think that the story could have been covered without the same use of the photos of the children. Ultimately, though using the photo was probably useful for exposing the story (and getting lots of newspaper sales/page visits online), it was not worth it for permanently connecting the children’s faces to this story (both online and in the public consciousness).

  2. I don’t think it was of public interest to publish the photos of the children. I also do not think the photos were necessary to the story. I’m not sure whether or not parental consent should be the deciding factor, but I do think parental consent is 100% necessary. I believe it is absolutely necessary for journalists to take into account the vulnerability of the children when making these decisions.

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