Politicians Need To Do More To Protect Children and Young People From The Press

A group of young people from Haringey created their own local project Positive Youth News Haringey to tackle the negative representation of youth in the media.

Seema Chandwani is Operations Director at Positive Youth News

A group of young people from Haringey created their own local project Positive Youth News Haringey to tackle the negative representation of youth in the media.

They negotiated with the local press that at least one positive youth news story will be published a week and developed a social media publicity machine, which promotes the stories to the wider community. This enables positive youth stories to gain wider exposure to tackle some of the stereotypes which exist amongst adults.

They have also worked closely with Editors from the local papers to curb the derogatory language used, leading to only two occasions in the past two years where it has been used. Although this is a significant achievement, media is not solely confined to local outlets and national newspapers are available in the local area.

Culturally it has become acceptable for the British media to use derogatory language when describing young people. According to Children and Young People Now, 76% of press coverage of young people is negative, added to which research by Women in Journalism illustrated the most common words used in these stories to describe teenage boys were ‘yobs’, ‘thugs’, ‘inhuman’, ‘evil’ and ‘sick’.

It was only a few weeks ago, Stella Creasy MP had to come out in defence of a young constituent who was murdered whilst on holiday in Greece. The newspapers felt it was acceptable to brand the victim as a ‘gangster’, although local police had no record of him being involved in gang activity.

During the riots there was exceptionally unbalanced coverage, leading Thomas Hammerberg from the Council of Europe to raise the issue of the media’s coverage of the August disturbances, which from the outset singled out children and young people as the rioters, despite only 26% of rioters being aged 10 – 17.

The stories are having an effect within our society. In a survey for Vinspired, 39% of adults were unaware of anything positive young people do and according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the Jack Petchey Foundation, 1 in 4 adults in the UK would cross the road if they saw a group of young people.

The psychological and social impact on young people due to this issue is seriously worrying. Anecdotal evidence from young people suggests an effect on self esteem, identity, belonging, motivation, aspirations and behaviour. Whilst it is true other groups in society are facing comparable levels of negative attention from the media, children and young people are particularly vulnerable due to their age related psychological development.

The Youth Media Agency have been instrumental in campaigning for better press representation of young people nationally as well as calling for better regulation. In their submission to the Leveson Inquiry, which was endorsed by 73 youth organisations, it outlined four recommendations including making the Press Complaints Commission more user friendly for children and young people and adding age discrimination to the Editors code of conduct. Last month Children Rights Alliance for England also called for age to be added to the Editors code in line with the Equalities Act 2010.

The ‘Positive Youth News’ initiative will be branching out into a further 3 boroughs by summer 2014 to increase the volume and promotion of good local youth stories to change a community culture into one which celebrates young people’s achievements. But the matter of derogatory language and age discrimination is a national issue, which requires regulation and intervention at a political policy level.

Politicians have a responsibility to tackle this form of age discrimination and a duty to protect the well being of our children and young people.  Adopting the Youth Media Agency recommendations in manifestos for the 2015 election will be a fantastic start.

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