Bad news for young people: re-thinking negative perceptions

Youth Media Agency

My job as PR Manager at vInspired is pretty, well, inspiring. I come to work every day and get to tell the world about some of the most impressive young people in the country. But while it feels like a great honour to be able to shed light on amazing young people, it often feels like a thankless task.

Last week we announced the finalists for the vInspired National Awards. I spent a day calling round local papers to tell them our moving stories of triumph over adversity, self-less dedication and boundless energy. But what stuck with me was the reaction of so many of the reporters I spoke to. “It’s nice to hear about a young person who’s doing something good”, one of them said to me.

Spreading positivity

These reporters are so used to writing about ASBOs, binge-drinking, riots, benefit claimants and teen pregnancies, that it was a refreshing change to be able to write something positive about young people.

What I wanted to say to them, and wish I had, was that it was their fault positive stories about young people are such a rare treat. It’s not that we don’t try hard enough to spread positivity about young people – it’s just that salaciousness is an easy sell and, for editors, circulation is the bottom line.

For instance, according to recent research, one of the most commonly used term to describe teen boys in the media is ‘yob’. Are most teen boys really deserving of such derision?

Calling for fair and balanced portrayals

So today, vInspired, along with 55 other youth groups, is proud to support a submission to the Leveson Inquiry, lead by the Youth Media Agency. We are calling for young people to be portrayed in a fair and balanced way.

The main recommendations are that:

1. That ‘age’ be included as a classification of discrimination in the Editors Code Clause 12.i, such as in the NUJ Code of Conduct 9 which should be amended to: ‘Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation’.

2. That a new clause be added both to the Editors Code and the NUJ Code of Conduct that reflects the damage caused by generalising negatively around children and young people. For example: ‘Journalists should exercise a duty of care and avoid negative generalisations about children and young people’.

3. That the Press Complaints Commission is made more accessible to children and young people and the PCC develop a ‘child and young person friendly’ interface on their website with language that is accessible to children and young people.

4. That the Press Complaints Commission ensures someone within the organisation has trained skills in working directly with children and young people in order to handle their complaints with sensitivity and discretion.

We’re not saying we want every story about young people to be good, we’re just asking the media to reflect the reality: that most young people are decent, some are remarkable, and a minority (the same as with any age group) do bad things sometimes.

We went out and asked young people: "How do you think young people are portrayed in the media?" Listen above to what they said.

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First posted on 10th February 2012
By Janqui Mehta

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