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Rules for a post-war media

February 9, 2016

Senior Sri Lanka scholars and activists have come together to formulate media guidelines appropriate for a country struggling in transition from decades of conflict. You can access their statement here, but here are the main pointers they have offered:

With the increased public discussion of issues related to post-war accountability and truth in Sri Lanka that is likely to take place in the coming weeks and months, there is a great likelihood that statements and reportage will evoke charged emotions and potentially trigger further distress in affected people across Sri Lanka. We therefore urge that the following considerations be applied in contributions to the public discourse, to limit unintended harm or distress that may be caused:

Public Figures and Media Personnel

 Do not make speculative pronouncements on the fate of victims without presenting concrete evidence. Especially for families of the missing, such statements can either cruelly crush their hopes or revive great expectations, without a solid basis.

Confirmed information about the fate of particular individuals or groups of victims should be informed to their family members before being announced through media.

 Recognise that reporting on a specific case with confirmed information may still affect other victims and families in similar circumstances who lack information about the status of their own cases.

Exercise restraint in the description or depiction of acts of violence, or where this is unavoidable, include a warning at the outset that details may trigger distress in people with similar experiences.

Do not use distressing images or upsetting details of specific victims experiences without permission from them or next of kin. Where it is not possible to obtain permission, take measures to anonymise or reduce exposure of details that may cause emotional distress or social stigma to victims and their families.

 Avoid dehumanising and stigmatising all the members of combatant groups in statements and reportage, even as individuals and leaders are held responsible for their actions and decisions.

Members of the Public

Before sharing potentially upsetting images or accounts about atrocities or suffering on social media, consider whether your post may be viewed by anyone (ie. victim, combatant or their family members) for whom this might bring up distressing past memories or overwhelming feelings. People are often not prepared for what the materials they may encounter in their social media feeds, which may be shared by their own contacts or from networks far beyond these. If sharing potentially sensitive content, do include a warning that this may trigger distress in people with similar experiences.

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