PressWise goes to Latvia

19 January 2000 – PressWise has just returned from a 6-day visit to the Latvian capital Riga, meeting media organisations and bodies concerned with children’s welfare and running a 3-day workshop for print and broadcast journalists on reporting about the sexual exploitation of children.

The request for the training programme came from the Latvian National Committee for UNICEF, which co-sponsored the visit with the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. It followed public controversy in Latvia after media revelations in 1999 about organised sexual abuse of young boys, allegedly by prominent citizens.

Ethical issues about the way in which the story was broken generated almost as much controversy as the allegations themselves. Many Latvians, including journalists, found it hard to cope with the idea that a sophisticated paedophile network might be operating at the heart of government, especially as the sexual exploitation of local children has seldom been spoken about openly. Amidst complex legal and political wrangles, which are continuing, a special parliamentary investigation was initiated, several men were arrested, and the Prosecutor General recently resigned.

In a packed itinerary that included discussions with individual journalists, we met with the State Child’s Rights Protection Centre, which seeks to operate at arm’s length from the government, and has a positive approach to media relations to keep children’s rights high on the public agenda; the National Broadcasting Council, a regulatory body (roughly equivalent to the ITC and Radio Authority in the UK), set up in 1995 with 9 members elected by MPs, which is seeking to establish common guidelines about the reporting of children, crime and violence and recently held a seminar on the topic for TV producers; The Baltic Times an English language weekly newspaper covering Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the bulk of whose circulation is overseas; circulation; the Children of Hope Day Centre, a drop-in centre and residential project for street children in Riga, managed by a British woman; as well as visiting the offices of UNICEF, and The Journalists’ House, head quarters of the Latvian Association of Journalists.

The training programme took place in UN House in the centre of Old Riga, with participants from national radio and TV and newspapers, The Baltic Times, the Department of Communications and Journalism at the University of Latvia, the National Broadcasting Council, and the State Child’s Rights Protection Centre, as well as representatives from UNICEF in Latvia and Moldova. The event featured on ‘LNT Breakfast’, an early morning news and current affairs magazine on Latvian Independent TV.

We received very positive feedback after the workshop, and learned that The Soros Foundation in Latvia is to fund the translation and publication of the PressWise/UNICEF materials; that plans are already underway for follow-up on the workshops for local TV journalists in the State system. Meanwhile an NGO trainer who attended the workshop is to liase with PressWise over the development of more localised training, and the new journalism curriculum at the University of Latvia is likely to incorporate a module on coverage of children’s issues.

PressWise would like to thank Ilza Doskina, Executive Director UNICEF Latvia, her Projects Manager Iveta Misina, and their staff for the excellent arrangements made on our behalf.

(Bulletin No 5)

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