11 June 2008

Protecting Reputations

We moved a report on May 27 from London with the headline: “Study Finds Rampant Child Abuse by Aid Workers, Peacekeepers.” The article was about a report by Save the Children UK which accused some international aid workers and peacekeepers of sexually exploiting children living in countries affected by conflict and natural disaster. It was, to say the least, a shocking story.

The article as displayed on VOANews.com included a photograph of a Brazilian UN peacekeeper being followed by Haitian child --- clearly marked as a “file photo.” It was not intended to imply the soldier in the picture was involved in the kind of abuse described in the Save The Children report.

Unfortunately, that is just what one reader from Brazil saw:

“This picture gives an idea that the Brazilian Peacekeeper is guilty. I'm very upset about this. I'm a former Peacekeeper, (who) was in Haiti from December 2006 until May 2007…I left my family, my wife and my son in Brazil and went to Haiti to help that people, to fight against the gangs, to help the children, to help the weak people, to bring peace to that place.”

The writer told us that he reads and listens to VOA about twice a week and likes it. But, he doesn’t approve of the decision to run that file photo with the item on child abuse. He says, “I hope to get an excuse. I hope (for) an answer. I hope (for) justice.”

Our web team has sent him an apology. It says:

“We struggled to find a photo to illustrate that report. Obviously we're not going to find a photo that represents abuse - and the best we could do was to find a photo that illustrated how dependent local populations, including children, are on international peacekeepers, because they play such an important role. We were very careful to make sure the photo caption did not give the impression the peacekeeper in the picture was involved in any abuse. We apologize, because we tried very hard to avoid exactly the kind of impression you report. Please understand that was not our intent.”

In retrospect, we think a better decision might have been not to use any file photo but a picture of the actual cover of the Save The Children report.

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