The Importance of Ethical Journalism in the Fight Against OSEC

Editor’s Note: From November 2019 to February 2020, Evident had the opportunity to work with ChildFund and the Child Rights Network (CRN) for their #ShutDownOSEC Campaign. The following article is written by Joie Menchavez, one of the analysts involved in the research for and creation of the compliance index on OSEC victims’ representation in the media. 

At the ChildFund OSEC Media Workshop held on November 22, 2019, Evident Communications, the Child Rights Network, and ChildFund Philippines discussed the true state of OSEC (Online Sexual Exploitation of Children) in the country, and equipped local journalists with what they need to join the fight to #ShutDownOSEC.

OSEC can be defined as a sexually exploitative crime that involves the photography and livestreaming of sexual abuse and the cybertrafficking of minors.

As one of the top issues of violence against children, OSEC cases are constantly covered in the media. Due to this, journalists play a crucial role in protecting the privacy, mental health, and emotional welfare of OSEC subjects in media coverage.

On-ground data reveal that the Philippines is one of the hotspots for OSEC. ChildFund’s project with the Child Rights Network and Evident is a big step toward making sure that the media reporting on OSEC is respectful, appropriate, and accurate,” ChildFund Philippines Advocacy Specialist Allan Nuñez shared during the event.

“Above all, we need to be focused on protecting the dignity and privacy of the children.”


Evident’s OSEC Research Efforts


As part of Evident’s research team, my teammates and I spent days monitoring OSEC cases published online and in traditional media to determine if there was media misrepresentation of OSEC and those affected by it.

With our social listening tool, we were able to collect a sample of 137 articles from three years’ worth of print and digital press releases, which we coded based on four main attributes:

  1. Proper reference to children and OSEC terms
  2. Respect for privacy
  3. Tone of coverage
  4. Gender lens

To measure whether publications observed ethical coverage, we created a “compliance index” where each article was scored based on the “weights” applied to each of the four attributes.

Each attribute also had subsegments, which helped show the specific practices that the media was most ethically compliant to based on the scoring system. The higher the publication’s score for a certain attribute, the more “compliant” they were to that segment.

If a publication received an overall score higher than 4.25, then the publication was considered generally compliant to ethically representing OSEC victims in the media.

Based on the compliance index, our research finds that publications tend to not fully observe ethical coverage.

‘Unethical’ attributes that publications are observed to adopt are:

  1. Overly eliciting pity for OSEC victims by ‘overemphasizing’ their backgrounds
  2. Not equally representing male and female sources, and 
  3. OSEC being loosely referred to as child pornography, cyberporn, and cyberviolence, but it is actually a form of child sexual abuse and trafficking.

On the other hand, our research shows that publications are compliant in observing the correct use of the terms cyberviolence/ trafficking when referencing OSEC, and blurring the victim’s face in the media.

These were some of the important findings we shared during the ChildFund OSEC Media Workshop held on November 22, 2019. At that same workshop, ChildFund and the Child Rights Network (CRN) equipped journalists with guidelines that prioritize children’s rights and protection while raising awareness about OSEC.


The Importance of Ethical Reporting in Fighting OSEC


During our research period, we were able to see the severity of OSEC in the Philippines based on what was covered in the media.

The sampled cases used in the research showed that OSEC perpetrators were commonly those nearest to the victim, such as a relative or a guardian—people who should have been protecting the victims from OSEC in the first place.

Other information we were able to get about OSEC from various articles included:

  • Most children who suffer from OSEC are girls
  • Some perpetrators from foreign countries intentionally go to the Philippines for OSEC
  • Arrests and police operations are the prevalent resolutions to OSEC incidences

OSEC is a rampant crime in the Philippines, which is why it is important to raise awareness on the issue to help in the fight against OSEC. In this regard, the media plays a large role in keeping the public aware of OSEC occurrences. But as the media does its job spreading awareness, it must always prioritize the rights of the victims, and ensure that their privacy is protected.

The UNICEF Guidebook on Ethical Reporting states that improper use of words and images in the media can inflict irreparable damage to those affected. The media’s portrayal of children impacts both the child and the adults’ behavior towards children. According to Accountable Journalism, stories of child abuse tend to dominate, while the broader issues of children’s rights are often not regarded as newsworthy. The result is an unbalanced impression of ‘children as victims’.

To minimize these practices, our research was used to set guidelines for ethical reportage. By setting clear boundaries on how OSEC victims are represented in the media, publications can better assure the safety of OSEC subjects’ welfare.


Ensuring Ethical OSEC Reporting


Our research affirmed the severity of OSEC cases in the Philippines and the widespread misrepresentation of victims in the media.

To avoid unethical practices in the coverage of OSEC cases among the media, ChildFund and Evident collaborated to make a specific set of guidelines with the ethical compliance study as basis.


 Irene V. Fonacier-Fellizar, Civic and Social Organization Officer, talking about the 6 guiding principles of ethical OSEC reporting


Based on the results of the study, the following guidelines were passed on to the workshop’s media attendees:

  1. Strive for accuracy and sensitive when reporting on issues involving children
  2. Avoid using stereotypes and sensational presentation to promote material involving children
  3. Carefully consider consequences in publishing any material concerning children
  4. Avoid identifying children unless demonstrably in the public interest
  5. Give children the right of access to media to express their own opinions without inducement of any kind
  6. Ensure independent verification of information provided by children without putting child informants at risk
  7. Avoid using sexualized images of children
  8. Use fair, open, and straightforward methods to obtain pictures with the consent of the children or a responsible guardian
  9. Verify the credentials of any organization that represents the interests of children

These guidelines, together with our research, calls journalists and the public to become more aware of children’s rights and protection to uphold the commitment to #ShutDownOSEC.

It’s important for the public to understand the gravity of OSEC. Many know of it, but few truly understand its impact and the importance of using the correct terms to define its effect on children. 

Awareness of OSEC’s impact starts with calling it out as a sexual crime against children. Using the right terms and integrating these into our daily vocabulary is one of the most powerful ways to help #ShutDownOSEC. 

For more information and to take further action against OSEC in the Philippines, 

Visit: #ShutDownOSEC Official Microsite
Don’t forget to
sign the petition to Philippine Congress and download informative materials that you can share on your own social platforms.
You may also visit ChildFund to support their work against OSEC and other forms of child labor.

Together we can #ShutDownOSEC for good!

Share this article: 

More for your reading

The latest articles and featured insights from Team Evident