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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 02:58 GMT 03:58 UK
'We're not all hooligans'
By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News Online

Teenagers fear that negative media views show the wider public opinion of them
Teenagers fear that negative media views show a wider public opinion
"We're not all obese, lazy, drug-taking hooligans."

So said a child reporter from the Children's Express, fed up with negative reporting of children.

He had obviously been reading about "yobs", "thugs" and "monsters" in the newspapers.

Stories on anti-social behaviour orders, underage sex, violence, bullying and other topics seem to lump all teenagers into one unsavoury group.

Research by Mori, commissioned by Young People Now magazine, suggests that tabloid, broadsheets and local papers are too focused on negative stories of young people.

To improve the situation, the magazine, with the support of Education Secretary Charles Clarke, the National Youth Agency, the Youth Justice Board, the Children's Society, the UK Youth Parliament, YMCA and Nacro, has drafted a media code.

Minister for Children Margaret Hodge appeared briefly at the launch of the code on Tuesday before rushing off to discuss the role of the proposed commissioner for children.

She said one of the key roles of the commissioner should be to consider the portrayal of children in the media.

"They are completely fed up with the way they are portrayed," she said.

Children's Minister Margaret Hodge and Education Secretary Charles Clarke
Margaret Hodge said children were fed up

"We know that the contribution young people make to their communities is tremendous.

"Nine out of ten put something back into the community...so the idea that all young people are involved in anti-social behaviour is not true."

Gaining balance in coverage - the good with the bad - is one aspect the code wants to encourage in the media.

The Mori research studied 17 tabloid, broadsheet and local papers which ran a total of 603 "youth" related articles between 2 August and 8 August this year.

Negative articles accounted for 71% of the total, with 14% positive and 15% neutral.

Tabloid impact

The tabloids - the Sun, the Mirror, the Daily Mail, the Express and the Star - carried the most youth-related stories and their tone was far more negative, it said.

"Tabloid stories reach a larger number of people, so these stories may have a greater impact on public opinion," Mori said.

The broadsheet stories were more focused on parenting and education, but these also contained stereotypes and bias, it added.

By far the most popular topic for the papers was violence, crime or anti-social behaviour, with the tabloids carrying 35 stories, the broadsheets 26 and local papers 33.

Karen Sutherland
Karen Sutherland: Anti-social behaviour isn't all done by young people

Stories about achievements by young people ranked the lowest, with a total of 23 stories across the 17 papers.

Of the 26% of young people who admitted committing a crime, only 7% were involved with police, yet 33% of stories about young people focused on crime, the research found.

Other findings included that young people were only quoted in 8% of stories about themselves - an aspect the draft code wants to change by encouraging journalists to ask young people for their comment.

Seventeen-year-old Karen Sutherland made a comic sight amongst the gathered suited officials and media at the Westminster launch when she donned a bright orange wig and novelty glasses.

Pretending to be a pretentious reporter, she gave a report freely linking children to thugs and yobs.

Then seriously, removing her wig, she said: "The media do represent us unfairly and I do want to change that."

There are a certain proportion of heroes, and there are a certain proportion of villains, but most young people are ordinary.
Tom Wylie
National Youth Agency

She used the example that when the Scottish anti-social behaviour act was reported, it was usually followed by a story about young people doing something bad.

"But anti-social behaviour is not just about young people.

"When the Edinburgh Festival is on, there are a lot of adults being anti-social on the streets."

The National Youth Agency's chief executive officer Tom Wylie said: "There are a certain proportion of heroes, and there are a certain proportion of villains, but most young people are ordinary.

"But the papers don't do ordinary - they don't do it for the rest of the population and they don't do it for young people."

The draft includes recommending that the media should use terms such as yob, thug, monsters, evil and gang with care and not as a catch-all term to describe all young people in trouble with the law.

It also wants the media to recognise that publishing the names of young people under an anti-social behaviour order puts them and their family at risk.

Finally it reminds the media that at least three other press codes exist in relation to reporting about children: the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice; the International Federation of Journalists' guidelines and principles for reporting on issues involving children; and Unicef's principles for ethical reporting on children.


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