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Journalists focus on human rights

Monday 18 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – A group of Pacific island journalists are meeting in Nadi this week to strengthen and build their capacity to understand what human rights is about and how they can use human rights lenses when reporting news in the region.

In recognising the media as a key influencer in society, and the role it can play in educating the public, Romulo Nayacalevu, a senior human rights adviser with The Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team, spokes to the Fiji Times about how an awareness of human rights can enhance good journalism.

“We are mindful that sometimes there are real challenges that come with reporting, but it is also important to understand that every story has a human face,” he said.

“For example, if a journalist is pursuing a story on violence against women, not only is it reporting about the emotional impact on the women with regards to the violence, but it is also looking at how that is a violation of human rights itself.

“Throughout this week the key message we’re trying to convey is journalists have a crucial role to play in society. They are the fourth pillar of the State.

“They are the watchdogs of society and therefore important in that regard for the media to be sensitive and alert when it comes to a human rights element and to pursue the story with a human rights lens.

Nayacalevu said the discussion will also be looking at human rights languages.

“For example, you know sometimes when we are talking about disability, there can be languages used that are disempowering. Or there are languages that do not take into consideration human rights issues.

“The workshop is about journeying through a newsroom setting and seeing how journalists have human rights at the back of their minds when they are pursuing a story.

“Apart from capacity, it is also about building the understanding of the role of the media in terms of how it can protect and promote human rights – the lens it has as a watchdog allows for it to ensure that it brings human rights violation to the attention of the public, inform the public, educate the public.”

Nayacalevu said the work of the Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team is not about monitoring individual newsrooms.

“Our work is largely about capacity building. I read and follow the news as a citizen and each story is different in terms of how the story is presented.

“If you’re talking about elections and the accessibility of voting booths then we would be expecting to see the coverage focusing on the potential violation.

“This is a violation of the right to vote, the right to information. So I guess every story that comes out, one must be able to look at it contextually and see from that story whether it is covering sufficient grounds in terms of the violation.

“There are some stories, that when you read through, you are concerned, because obviously it is talking about things that do not even factor the human rights angle of it.

“For example, when a woman is raped and named, it further contributes to the violation of her right rights to privacy.

“But there are stories that you pick up and you smile to yourself because the journalist has done a good job in focusing on the rights of people within that article.”

Nayacalevu said an understanding of human rights within news reporting empowers general society.

“Information is power, and a story that is well written and covers the basis in terms of facts and looking at the violations – it influences the reader. They provoke an emotional response.

“So I guess you are all about influencing your reader. And if we are reading something that has strong human rights focus, not only are readers informed, they are advised and the stories can also prompt a reaction.

“For example, maybe we can lobby parliament for new laws. Maybe we can be agents of change ourselves. The media has a lot of influence in that respect, in regards to human rights and changing attitudes and thinking.”

Nayacalevu was asked about the importance of CEDAW in the region’s newsrooms.

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. Described as an international bill of rights for women, it was instituted in 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states.

“Today when we talk about CEDAW, people will say, ‘what’s that?’ or, ‘Oh CEDAW, it is about women becoming powerful’.

“There’s a lot more that needs to take place. Awareness. People need to be aware what the convention is about,” he said.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about this and about children’s rights. So the starting point is about educating the community, and empowering the community for them to understand CEDAW.

“Violence against women is a form of discrimination against women because women are considered subservient, are considered of lesser status, are considered in some cases as property.

“And a lot of women don’t even understand their rights. They think their role is to be quiet. And as a result, they accept that they should be punished or that they should be violated.

“But once you begin to give information, I’m not saying it’s going to change overnight, but gradually you begin to change attitudes and perceptions, gradually you begin to accept that your wife, your mother, is not a punching bag. That they are human beings with rights and they need to be treated with respect.”

Nayacalevu said in order for the media to educate the public, they themselves need to understand CEDAW first.

“This is so people from the village, when he or she is reading or watching the news, is able to understand the language – that is not technical and difficult.”

The Fiji Times suggested in some island cultures there is concern about CEDAW from a cultural and religious perspective where the man is considered head of the household.

“The answer to that is in the Bible itself. A lot of people, church leaders included, a lot of the information they gather is from the media, before you even begin to hear about CEDAW from the experts, you probably read about it in the media.

“And a lot of the influences are taking place already through what is written in the media. And because sometimes the journalist doesn’t really understand it, it is written in such a way that it is rejected by the people.

“And if the paper is a very credible paper, they believe it more. So in this regard, it is the journalist that is the first point of contact. For the church, a lot of this can be solved by dialogue and discussion.

“Bring people together and say yes, the Bible says man is head of the household, but in the Bible, that order functions when the husband loves the wife and the wife submits. It, is a dual process. A lot of times the husband is forcing the wives to submit, not considering the fact that the wife needs to be loved.

“So I guess that conversation will take place in a larger setting, but the first step is what they are reading, where the source of information is coming from and the way it is worded and the way it is translated.

“So what is happening in this workshop is a first step to a bigger process.

“We are not here to solve all the problems, but to start with journalists who are one of the influencers in society, to influence the way they are writing so they can contribute to the bigger discourse of human rights.”

Nayacalevu said the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team provides assistance and advice to a whole range of people and government sectors in member states, all key stakeholders are part of strengthening the human rights culture in any country.

The Enhancing a Human Rights-based Approach to News Reporting Forum is organised by the Secretariat for the Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team in partnership with the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme, the Pacific Islands News Association and the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Program.

The workshop, held at the Tanoa Skylodge Hotel, is supported by the Australian Government and the European Union. - Fiji Times/PNC.