Nrc: Do journalists need new rules?

Journalists are looking on Hyves and Twitter for friends of the twelve year-old who had a baby this week. Trailing the internet has taken over from knocking on doors, writes Nrc.

Another possible sexual abuse case and again the media have been criticised for not keeping enough distance. In Groningen a twelve year-old girl had a baby. Journalists not only approached her classmates on the school playground but also on Twitter. Are journalists allowed to use social networks to approach children in cases like this or are new rules in order?
‘Want to do story’
Religious broadcaster EO’s Jos de Jager sent the following tweet to one of the girl’s classmates: ‘Want to do story about (girl’s name)’s father. Would you like to help?’ Wim Moes, director of the school education board VCOG in Groningen, which includes primary school De Heerdstee, is not happy about this.
‘I’m not angry – any ethical discussions should be fought out among the journalists themselves – but I am very surprised indeed about the way the media have treated this case. The EO used Twitter to get into contact with a classmate, there were camera crews around the playground and journalists talking to the children. The Telegraaf published the girl’s first name which is one that stands out..what is the journalistic relevance of that piece of information?’
Tenco van Hee, editor of the EO programme Uitgesproken EO said: ‘The image that is now being created of EO journalists targeting every boy and girl in the girl’s class is wrong. We have approached one boy who said he was a classmate and who was spreading information that was different from what we had. I think it’s normal journalistic practice to check the facts, especially in a case where not much information is given out.’
Van der Hee emphasises that the EO values ethics in journalism. ‘We would never just let the camera’s roll in a school playground. We would never interview a child without parental consent. But this was a case of investigative journalism, a gathering of information. That is different.’
‘That is one way of putting it’, says director Moes. ‘I just see children being approached by strangers.’
Did Moes prepare the children for the media attention? ‘Teachers told them to be reticent with the press: don’t say too much and don’t speculate. It was explained to them what that meant: inventing a story of what might have happened. We want the girl to be left in peace and not have wild stories about her in the press. If you don’t know what to say, tell them to call Mr Moes.’
The pupils’ Hyves pages are protected. Was that a conscious decision? Moes: ‘No. It’s common practice among pupils and it’s what they are advised to do during media classes.’
The Raad voor de Journalistiek, the profession’s watchdog, will only react officially if a complaint is made but a spokeswoman for the Raad said the press should ‘at least have had the decency to be reticent where the classmates were concerned.’
Media ethics lecturer Huub Evers is more outspoken. ‘I think this is reprehensible behaviour. You don’t go to classmates, on the playground or on the internet. There is no difference between the two.’ He admits that the internet and the rise of the social media have changed journalism. ‘You can be above it all but if all the information is out there on the internet it will be very difficult for quality media to remain an ethical oasis.’
For now, the old methods are intrusive enough. Press agency Novum said the brother and father of the girl have gone into hiding. They no longer feel safe in their home because of the media onslaught. ‘The journalists were literally almost inside the house’, a policeman said. ‘Officers had to take them to the police station and find them a safe place.’
The pupil that was approached by the journalist put it like this on Twitter: ‘The press is f’ing talking shit & I know everything but not telling that press comes to the school they ask things f’ing press esp sbs 6!’
This is an unofficial translation

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