Publicity can help in the fight against abuse
(VNS) Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers if journalists and activists should include a victim's image in reports on domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Some of the arguments for publishing were that such pictures are used to indicate the seriousness of a crime. Here are some of the replies we received.
Reidar Hjermann, Norwegian, Norway
"I cannot tell the police that my parents beat me. The police wouldn't listen, and my parents would beat me even more," said a 13-year-old girl to me at a support centre for children in Ha Noi.
Burger King, a global chain of fast food restaurants headquartered in the US, inaugurated its first Vietnamese franchise in HCM City earlier this month.
The US giant seems determined to saturate the Vietnamese market. The company plans to open as many as 12 restaurants this year: five in HCM City, three in Ha Noi and one in Da Nang, as well as three other stores in the country's largest airports. The company has invested as much as US$40 million in these franchises.
Despite inflation and the global economic slowdown, the country continues to be seen as a promising market for foreign fast-food companies due to its young population and emerging middle class.
Fast-food companies already present in the country, such as Jollibee, Pizza Hut and Pizza Inn, plan to open new stores. McDonald's is also looking for the chance to enter the market.
For many Vietnamese, especially young people, eating at fast-food restaurants is part of a modern lifestyle.
Do you like new fast-food chains constantly popping up around Vietnamese cities? What do you think of the changing, more Westernized lifestyle of many Vietnamese people? What measures should be taken to educate youngsters about the health consequences of eating too much fast food?
Please reply by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, November 1.
Viet Nam News asked this week if journalists should identify victims of domestic violence to get the message through in a more effective way. As a Norwegian child-rights consultant on a short visit to Ha Noi, I am pleased to see that domestic violence is discussed in the media. Media attention can be crucial if the mind-set of people is to change the attitudes of violent people.
Violence against women and children is a problem all over the world. However, how it is regarded can vary according to how it is treated in individual families and in child rearing. Violence in the family must be combated through education, effective legislation and constant media attention.
The media in Norway follows a set of guidelines on the issue. Developed by the media itself through years of trial and error, they oblige editors to be particularly careful about identifying children involved in conflicts, particularly abuse.
Still, identification of women and children victims does happen, usually when they die from abuse. Survivors are usually not identified.
I believe domestic violence should be discussed widely in the media and in society. I also believe that this can be done without always identifying victims. Violence will continue unless women and children learn their human rights, and there is a wider general understanding of why violence and physical punishment is destructive and wrong.
Last week, I met the members of the Viet Nam Association for the Protection of Children's Rights. They are working on a programme to inform children about the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child in a way that both children themselves and their parents understand.
The right to grow up without violence is a central part of the Convention. The information programme can therefore be an important step towards a future where more people in families can live together without being constantly afraid.
And in this lies also the great media opportunity. Media attention on programmes and policies aimed at positive parenting and peaceful family life can bring good results.
John MacDonald, Australian, Ha Noi
Publishing photos of victims of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and child abuse should not be permitted without approval from those involved. There is good reason for this. To publish identifiable photos after an event adds to the victim(s) trauma and usually serves no good purpose, apart from selling more newspapers.
This is the law in Australia and other countries where the media is tightly controlled – at least in this area. Laws were introduced after generations of self censorship by responsible publications and television stations began to wane in the hunt for ratings and circulation.
The key to the rules is that photos of victims should not be able to be identified in the media, particularly in media outlets covering the state or province where the alleged crime(s) occurred.
Editors usually make their own minds up when dealing with distant "shots" or photo angles that hide most of the features of the alleged victims. But even the best of laws can lose their bite, especially when it comes to showing and identifying victims in some international photo stories. Remember the photo of a screaming, naked girl running ablaze from head to toe during a napalm bombing years ago in Viet Nam?
While the editor of the US magazine in question agonised over his choice, it is generally recognised that the photo did more than any other to bring the horror of the war in Viet Nam to world audiences.
The arguments for some sort of censorship arise when prestigious magazines run photos of Afghan girls physically maimed because they tried to avoid forced marriage – or were shot while promoting the benefits of education. In these cases, the buck again passes back to the editor, who must decide on the merits of running the shot.
But, if the issue seems sensitive, there is always the choice of dropping the photo from the local, or Asian edition. As the old newspaper saying goes: "When in doubt, leave out!" Which gets us back to the purpose of newspapers, keeping the public informed – not pandering to voyeuristic instincts!
Natalie Tolkacheva, Russian, HCM City
In Viet Nam, domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault are sometimes considered private matters. The public refrains from intervening and usually knows little about what is happening.
However, the fact that these problems are happening within one family or to one person does not diminish their effects on society. They are similar to many other crimes and are often worse. They endanger the life and health of every member of society, have serious effects on the personal and national psyche, damage lives, and breed fear and shame.
Victims usually end up feeling vulnerable both within the family and in broader society. They do not want to talk about the problem and refuse assistance from others. The majority also do not want to have their identities revealed. So basically, the media and activists do not use their names and faces directly. No-one deserves the extra pain!
I was moved by a story about a Vietnamese woman who got HIV/AIDS from her husband – and told everyone about it to help raise awareness of the disease. Maybe it would help if victims of domestic violence, child abuse or sexual assault come out into the light and tell their stories.
I think the most important way to combat the problems is to raise public awareness about assistance and protection mechanisms.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
There are two competing to violent news stories. The first is that the public has a right to be kept informed and warned. The other is balancing privacy and respect for the victim.
It was standard practice years ago in western media that "if it bleeds, it leads." That's crude but accurate. It is also agreed that too much information can be desensitising. You become numb, distracted and "tune out".
Respect the privacy of victims as much as possible, and especially the young. They need moral support and time to put events behind them. Remember, what you read or watch on the news might be about you and your family tomorrow. — VNS