Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Reportage of traumatic incidents pertaining to children

Letter sent to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on 05 July 2024

The members of the Council and the Child Protection Committee of the Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians, together with the membership of the college, wish to submit a statement expressing our gravest concerns regarding the media (print and electronic) handling of incidents pertaining to children in the country.

The recent incident that took place on July 2, 2024, which led to the most unfortunate deaths of two young children, compels us to make this statement now and to appeal to all media organisations to refrain from sensationalising such acts. We note with utter dismay the detailed and sensationalised reporting of the said incident using CCTV coverage. The two children are easily identified in the clips shown. In trying to dramatise the incident, the rights of the children have been brutally violated and the basic principle of respecting the dead has been sadly and totally forgotten.

Children watching such incidents are known to be traumatised. We as Paediatricians, have had to help children who have presented with behaviour changes and psychosomatic symptoms following the exposure of these young minds to detailed traumatic experiences on TV and other forms of media in the past.

Frequent and detailed reports of such acts can induce children to consider such incidents as “normal” behaviour in the young and undeveloped minds of individuals watching such reports. This is especially so in adolescents in whom impulse control is still immature. Adolescents are especially vulnerable to such influences and the tendency to imitate such behaviour is higher amongst them. For example, an association between sensationalised media reportage and subsequent increase in suicidal behaviour is well documented in the medical literature.

In addition, does the media have a right to disrespect the next of kin who are trying to grapple with a huge problem? Should their emotions and feelings not be considered? Two children from two families are dead. There are grieving parents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc. who are exposed to the details of the last few moments of the lives of these children on earth. What impact would this detailed reportage have on such individuals? Details of where the children lived are also being shown and highlighted. Such incidents of insensitive media reporting keep happening at regular intervals in the country. Media personnel should be more sensitive to such issues in future.

We implore you, as the Minister of Women and Child Affairs to look into this matter and take urgent remedial action for the future welfare of the children of our country.

Dr Kosala Karunaratne Dr Asvini D. Fernando
President Chairperson
Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians Child Protection Committee of SLCP

Copies to:

Minister of Mass media

Minister of health

State Minister for Women and Child Affairs

Chairperson National Child Protection Authority


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