By Žarko Trajanovski, MA, human rights expert
This is the second part of the analysis on the trend in the media to ignore the problems of people with disabilities.
“Let the voice of the voiceless be heard…” (Journalist Ethics Code)
In our previous analysis with the same title, we noted that the use of respectful terms for people with disabilities is a special ethical challenge, because disrespectful language can cause a feeling of exclusion. However, the complexity of the terminology is not the only reason why journalists are not making it possible for everyone to hear the voice of people with disabilities.
Ignored by the media: a form of discrimination
“The media should report on cases of unfair treatment of children and adults with disabilities” (It’s about opportunities).
The media often ignore the requests of people with disabilities. The most recent example is the request for a faster implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is ignored by most of the media. “Конвенција за правата на лица со инвалидност” is the official translation of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was translated by UNICEF as Конвенцијата за правата на лицата со попреченост, or in other cases as “Конвенцијата за правата на лицата со попречености” and “Конвенција за лица со хендикеп”.
Regardless of the differences in translation, the Convention requires awareness raising activities to combat prejudices, stereotypes and harmful practices, development of positive perceptions, as well as:
“Inciting all media bodies to depict persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of this Convention”.
Nevertheless, most of the media continue to ignore the organizations of persons with disabilities when referring to this Convention, ratified in December 2011 (“The Assembly ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Invalidity”). For example, the debate on the participation of handicapped citizens in the electoral process – “MY VOTE COUNTS, TOO” was an opportunity to “discuss about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Handicap and how it interprets the right to vote”.
Journalists have an ethical obligation to support the requests of people who are marginalized and discriminated against, instead of ignoring them.
Freedom of expression for people with disabilities
According to the Convention on Persons with Disabilities (Article 21), signatory countries are obliged to take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, particularly the freedom to seek, receive and communicate information and ideas equally as the others and through all the forms of communication of their choice.
The media should constantly remind the state about its duties, which include providing information intended for the general public, to persons with disabilities (in a timely manner and without any additional costs, in an accessible format and technologies appropriate for different types of disabilities), recognition, promotion, acceptance and facilitation of the use of sign languages (Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, as well as other accessibility means, models and formats of communication selected by persons with disabilities), etc..
The state should also encourage the mass media and the internet providers to make their services accessible for the people with disabilities.
The media had an excellent opportunity to engage in the Campaign for Digital Inclusion, conducted by the association “Open the Windows.” Positive examples include an interview with representatives of the “Open the Windows” association of Kanal 5 and MTV, promoting specific devices (assistive computer technology).
Unfortunately, very few media covered the round table on the topic of “Digital Inclusion in Macedonia”, during which the representative of the Ministry of Information Society and Administration presented the results from the National Strategy for e-Inclusion (2011 – 2014).
The most important project of the “National Strategy for e-Inclusion” presented at the round table was the Macedonian speech synthesizer, software which is:
“An important tool for the blind and visually impaired persons, used to convert Macedonian e-contents to audio speech.”
The information that:
“The initial version of the software has already been developed and will be made available free of charge to all blind people in the country” may be an additional incentive for investigative journalism.
Nonetheless, journalists did not fulfill their ethical obligation to investigate and report on the unfulfilled promises from the “National Strategy for e-Inclusion”.
Media and journalists as fellow fighters
Media and journalists can be of great help to people with disabilities in their fight for human rights, especially if they are familiar with the implementation of existing laws, programs and strategies, such as the “National Strategy for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2010-2018.”
The media needs to promote diversity in the newsrooms by employing journalists with disabilities in order to be able to provide information about everyone in the community, and not just for those who belong to the majority. It is necessary to adapt the media contents in order to make them accessible for people with disabilities.
All journalists should be trained for understanding disabilities and to ethically report on people with disabilities, to learn how to overcome prejudices and negative stereotypes about people with disabilities. For example, the negative stereotype that people with disabilities are asexual is emphasized by texts such as “Do they have the right to love, instead of just receiving care?” and “Sex and invalidity [sic]”. December 3 should not be the only day for media coverage on people with disabilities, but all the other days of the year as well.
English translation by One World SEE
This analysis was created within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project – Media Fact-Checking Service Component, implemented by Metamorphosis. The analysis is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).