Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney
Rusty Razorblades and State of the Art Cameras: in search of human rights ‘for Kurdish Girls?’
On December 29th 2008 the Washington Post published an article entitled “For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual”. Disseminated globally on the newspaper’s website, the article and attached photographic gallery are a shocking depiction of the trauma of forced female genital mutilation of young girls in Southern Kurdistan. The article evokes a series of debates regarding the religious or cultural origins of such practices and of the ethical responsibilities of who can and cannot speak of such matters. On the one hand this testimony is an expression that brings to light bodily violations that have been kept secret, hidden from the probing eyes of those seeking to protect human rights for all of the world’s people. On the other these disturbing words and images transgress human rights by invading the privacy of the little girl and her people. The report brings to the fore a conundrum where questions of responsibility and those of rights to privacy come into conflict.
The best interests of each child are to be protected over any other consideration, including over advocacy for children’s issues and the promotion of child right.
International news readers should be quite accustomed to the public dissemination of stories and photographic images of the devastation and trauma of Iraqi people; people suffering the upheaval of internal displacement, people mourning the deaths of loved ones, people’s bodies exploded by bombs, people having their homes and lives, villages and cities destroyed by the endless ravages of violence and war. At least since the chemical attacks on Halabja in 1988 under the direction of Saddam Hussein, the tortured, burned bodies and the unimaginable, unthinkable sufferings endured by Iraqi people have been widely disseminated as the subject of the newsreader’s interest and gaze. Ever since that time, images of Iraq in distress have increasingly come under the watchful eye of international journalists, war correspondents and human rights advocates as they often take great personal risks to inform the world’s readers of the violence of humanity.
From the onset of the present war in Iraq, representations of the horrific and brutal actions that we as ‘civilized’ human beings – Eastern and Western – subject each other to seem to no longer come as a shock to the news reader. However in the coverage of a young girl’s mutilation Washington Post reporters Amit Paley and Andrea Bruce take this gaze a step closer by directing our vision towards the very private trauma of an Iraqi child. In doing so the reporters navigate the margins between duty to inform, protection of privacy and freedom of speech. The investigative reporting of this immensely sensitive issue is of importance to rights advocates and policy makers the world over. However such representations must follow cautious steps to ensure and uphold underlying principles of investigative professionalism and codes of conduct which acknowledge the rights of all individuals to maintain their personal dignity and privacy.
Most would agree that female genital mutilation is a breach of human rights that legitimately falls beneath the watchful eye of the media as agent of information and often times as vanguard of rights. Most would agree that exposure of such forms of physical violation is imperative to ensuring the progress of international human rights. However in the varied responses to this specific article it is apparent that there are news media consumers who question the intrusive and dispassionate way in which Payley and Bruce have constructed the report and consequently fail to protect the privacy of their subjects. Specifically it is the way in which the report relies on personal details and facial images to arouse reaction that is of concern to these critical viewers. Moreover the fact that photojournalist Andrea Bruce received two prestigious awards for the series of photographs attached to the girl’s story – one of which shows a close up of the child’s screaming face as her clitoris is cut – demonstrates that regard for privacy has in this case gone unchecked. Furthermore this has been professionally condoned and rewarded with the highest prize. It appears that consideration of the consequences of this report for the child and her community has been disregarded. It would seem that Washington Post staff, the USA media industry and the wider public have become desensitised to the free, unrestricted portrayal of news reports from Iraq rather than to the disturbing graphics of the very private and traumatic images conveyed. In other words while shock continues to be a response to brutal images the dispassionate presentation of this girl’s story bespeaks desensitisation towards the ways in which the reporter has free license in depictions of the personal and private stories of Iraqi people. It seems that the desensitised audience and news media industry no longer question the personal and political value of such intrusive journalism when it comes to coverage of Iraq.
The central argument of this paper is that through disregard for concerns of privacy the Washington Post publication serves as an affront to the personal dignity of the child and an abuse of her human rights. Additionally the publication is not simply a narrative of an individual child but it is also one crafted as an extended description of a culture, indeed cultures beyond the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. Subsequently just as the report extends description to delineate the characteristics of Kurdish culture as a whole, and by extension cultures of the region, the ramifications are also extended. Rather than bringing about international concern and empathy or positive change for the people of Southern Kurdistan, this press delineation incites further negative stereotyping and racial discord towards people of the Middle East and Islamic cultures in general: Kurds specifically. With the USA finding it progressively more difficult to gain popular support for continued occupation in Iraq, coupled with the lure of prestigious awards embellished for capturing ‘real life’ and shocking images that support such occupation, the incentives of such journalistic endeavor are questionable.
What is of concern in this paper is not the debate current within certain circles on whether female genital mutilation is a violation of women’s and children’s rights or the academic politics of speaking of such issues. Neither is my concern with the disputes regarding whether a culture has the right to protect its traditional practices even when these may involve violent acts that contravene the protection of human rights. Rather the discussion here concerns ethical considerations, interests, methods and ramifications when media is reporting on such issues.
Since 2003 Iraq has not simply been the geography of incursion – the various fronts of war fought between foreign and local militia – but also Iraq is now a territorial space opened up to the intrusion of a plethora of social, economic and political invasions. International journalists, and investigators are often positioned at the frontier of this occupation. This paper looks at the sensitive boundaries crossed by international news reporters in Iraq and argues that such personal and insensitive depictions of Iraqi people evoke bifurcated responses from local and international public. These responses, contingent upon such invasion of privacy, undermine the dignity of the Iraqi people. Through considering the article by Payley and Bruce I address the apparent lack of concern for rights to personal privacy when covering Iraq and the obvious and alarming lack of restrictions on the ways in which investigators obtain and disseminate information from that region. This involves discussing the tensions between issues of freedom of expression and those of protection of privacy. First I describe the commentary on the girl’s mutilation. I then turn to the foremost tensions between freedom of expression and rights to privacy. Finally in establishing whether Payley and Bruce have indeed ‘overstepped the obvious bounds of propriety and of decency’, I look to the international guidelines on reporting on the lives of children that are endorsed as global standards of journalism.
The Article: For Kurdish Girls?
The article entitled “For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual,” is covered by Washington Post correspondent Amit, R. Payley and is accompanied by a photographic sequence by photojournalist Andrea Bruce. The visual images and the explanatory text follow each step of a little girl’s genital mutilation that took place in the village of Tuz Khurmatu in Southern Kurdistan. The article was published in the Washington Post on December 29th 2008, both in print and on-line. The report is a journalistic narrative depicting the horror of female genital mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is both a general investigation into the prevalence of the practice and a personalized account of a mother who betrays her seven-year-old daughter, with the promise of a party.
There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind [the girls], who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. [The girl] began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. “I do this in the name of Allah!” she intoned.
Providing ‘evidence’ that such deception is a cultural characteristic of the Iraqi Kurds rather than simply a personal pathology of betrayal enacted by the child’s mother, the reporter quotes the words of another girl who had undergone a similar incident some years prior. The thirteen year-old girl, from the Kurdish capital of Arbil told the reporters that;
[s]he was 5 when her mother sent her out to buy parsley and then locked her in the front yard of their home with six other girls. “I knew something bad was going to happen, but I didn’t know exactly where they were going to cut,” she recalled. “My family just kept saying, don’t worry, this is a social custom we have been doing forever.
The report describes a scene of normalized violence where rifles are juxtaposed with watermelons and conditions are primitive. On the day she circumcised [the girl], the midwife began the ritual by laying down an empty white potato sack to serve as her working area. AK-47 assault rifles hung from the wall of the dingy concrete house, and watermelons rested below. Payley’s narrative portrays the entrapment of young girls in Southern Kurdistan and the fear that Kurdish girls must experience concerning their bodies. A fear that Payley goes on to explain is intrinsic in many areas of the lives of Kurdish girls and women. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women.
According to the article between 60-95 % of girls from Southern Kurdistan have been mutilated in this way and although the practice is ‘most ingrained in the villages’ these continue to be a concern in the ‘cosmopolitan cities’ as well’. The article describes female genital mutilation as a private concern relating to Kurdish women and girls however on the contrary this portrayal also suggests a practice that takes place quite openly and with pride.
Neighborhood girls peek inside the house where [the child] is circumcised.
As she carried the sobbing child back home, [the child’s] mother smiled with pride.
Payley portends that the practice is widely conducted in Southern Kurdistan and further that it is without formal repercussion or legal interest. It is described as an accepted custom that takes place in a culture where even the Minister of Human Rights is engaged in trivialising the bodily integrity of Kurdish girls and women.
The Kurdish region’s minister of human rights, Yousif Mohammad Aziz, said he didn’t think the issue required action by parliament. “Not every small problem in the community has to have a law dealing with it,” he said.
Payley claims that the Kurdish Regional Government’s refusal to outlaw female genital mutilation highlights “the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq”. He goes on to portray an image of the lives of Kurdish women as fraught with violence, superstition, religious ritual and fear, discounting the claims that Kurdish women are more socially progressive than other women of the Middle East.
The photo gallery and adjoining captions (which have undoubtedly evoked the greatest criticism regarding the dispassionate reporting), follow each step of the girl’s trauma. The fifteen pictures reiterate the position presented in the report. The gallery begins with an image of the young girl as she waits for a “party”; an image of her smiling face: a face which through the trajectory of the gallery soon becomes one of agony and terror. It concludes with the portraits of the midwife counting the money she has earned for the day’s work and of the girl being carried home by her proud mother; it is as if despite the violence of the day things have turned out well for everyone.
The report and photo gallery are certainly disturbing, not simply because of the subject matter but moreover because of the way in which the scene is portrayed in an alarmingly dispassionate manner that shows no regard for the privacy of the subjects. While the journalists stand by and watch the mutilations, Andrea Bruce captures the award-winning images of a child’s trauma. The Washington Post article does a number of things that are of concern and that can normatively be described as an invasion of the subject’s fundamental rights to privacy. The victims of the mutilations are clearly identified both within the photographic spectacle that reveals the faces of all those concerned as well as through the language of the written text; ‘[the child’s name in full], 7, second from right, sits with girls from her neighborhood, waiting for a party her mother promised’. There is no doubt that the mother, child and practitioner are identified in the report and by jigsaw identification the other children are also easily recognised. Profiles are revealed to the public through photographs of their traumatised faces and through providing biographic details. Such disregard for privacy in reporting and mass publication begs the questions; what measures are in place to protect individuals from media intrusion into their personal lives? Would the investigation and publication be handled with more sensitivity if it concerned a citizen of the United States of America? What responsibilities do international journalists have in terms of disclosure of personal information when covering stories from other countries? What are the repercussions of the report for the subjects of the study and for the wider culture being framed?
The coverage of the little girl’s mutilation brings to the fore concerns of press responsibilities in the protection of the privacy of individuals and more directly the privacy of children. These are fundamental ethical issues of consent, confidentiality and protection of privacy. The commentary does not hide the fact that the child is oblivious to the impending violence of physical assault. However, the child is also oblivious to the impending assault of media in the staging and dissemination to the world of her personal details and private suffering. The girl was unaware of the purpose of her visit to the house of the practitioner. She was also unaware of the planned staging of her mutilation for an international audience. It is doubtful that the child or her mother understood the ramifications of such a report in terms of how it would frame not only the family but also the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is unclear whether the midwife willingly consented to the use of her identity and photographs. Nevertheless given the reality that female genital mutilation is a prevalent, legal and accepted practice in the region it is reasonable to assume that she did not understand that the day’s events would contribute to the demonising portrayal of her and by extension her people. Furthermore assuming that the girl’s mother and the midwife gave their consent to the publication of their private details does not mean that they fully understood the repercussions of this consent. It is unlikely that the Kurdish people were fully aware that this article would be disseminated so widely and that they would be portrayed as barbaric, ignorant and backward people governed by unthinking adherence to atavistic and barbaric doctrine. The pride that the journalists narrate in regard to the girl’s mother gives testimony to this different world-view and it is reasonable to assume that this reflects a cultural pride.
Privacy and Speech
In the production of news media where private lives are exposed to public scrutiny journalists are accountable to consider whether people like this Kurdish child ought to have their personal information kept private. Media journalists are tasked with evaluating whether it is appropriate that the privacy of an individual or group is sacrificed to justify publication. As the protection of privacy is important for dignity, personhood, individual autonomy and health, thorough consideration of and respect for certain reporting responsibilities and ethical media guidelines are essential. While the concept of privacy is complex and difficult to define, a general consensus is understood about the legality of what constitutes private facts. This is a situation where publicity is ‘given to private facts that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and that are not of legitimate concern to the public’.
Issues of privacy invasion by the press most often arise with respect to exposure of public figures such as politicians, celebrities and highly publicised or public figures. Occasionally privacy issues arise as a result of the unwanted exposure of an individual’s presence at a certain public and politicised event; people already in the public eye. Debates are generally deliberated around the disclosure of factual information that is published by the media without obtaining consent from individuals who, though already in the public realm, do not wish for their personal information, identities or photographs to be disseminated through media publication. The arguments in support of unrestrained media coverage of such details are based on the assumption that if a person is already in the public realm it follows that consent is presupposed. However, questions arise as to whether a person’s presence at public events, such as political protests, gives media the automatic right to publish facial images or biographical details. The case of this Kurdish girl however, is undoubtedly a private matter. This regards a culturally condoned and legal practice conducted in a distinctly private space. This regards the genitals of a child, the very private trauma of a young girl and mass publication of images in the moments of her personal suffering. Under domestic circumstances – that is, where the subject is a child from the United States of America – disclosure of such biographic details would reasonably amount to an offense under American invasion of privacy tort. Journalists such as Payley and Bruce must question whether it is proper for the media to publish such personal details. They must establish whether it is legal and/or ethical to include personal details in the publishing of stories that may result in invasions of rights to privacy. They must make balanced decisions about the cost and purpose involved when relinquishing the girl’s privacy. Were these details included because they were of legitimate public concern or were they included to add a personal/real touch in the aggressive quest to obtain the most prized image and story of the year?
A central tension underpinning the dilemma of reporting and publication of personal details in the media is found between the need to protect people’s rights to privacy and the democratic right to uphold values of freedom of expression. As evidenced in the often-quoted Warren and Brandies article published in the Harvard Law Review, issues of privacy concerning the press have been debated for more than 100 years. For more than 100 years there have been expressions of legal concern that ‘the press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and of decency’. Far from reaching an agreeable balance between these conflicting interests, the contestations have been exacerbated in recent decades through the proliferation of new media technologies such as digital photography, telescopic lenses, cellphones and the Internet. New media technologies have increased the need for protection of privacy from media intrusion. ‘The ease with which the photographic image can be captured, transferred around the globe and, more importantly, changed and interfered with, has increased the vulnerability to abuse’. With such developments these issues of media exposure and privacy are no longer demarcated by or confined within specific geographical borders. The Payley and Bruce report engages a local custom, read and interpreted by a global audience and thus evokes global mediation. This globalised portrayal of Kurdish people is further immersed within the much publicised and watched space of Iraq. As images of Iraq are currently mediated through relations with the USA, these international concerns of human rights traverse borders from ‘East’ to ‘West’ providing a portrait that is connected rather than separated from the Western reader. The report and photographic gallery are accordingly disseminated to a global readership and evoke international concerns and restrictions concerning the use of such private data. The refusal to uphold the girl’s rights as an Iraqi subject and the disregard for Iraqi law, which protects a child’s rights under the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in favor of the less restrictive laws of the USA, reveal a dismissal of the laws of Iraqi people in the dissemination of this globally available Washington Post publication.
Arguing against imposing further restrictions upon photographic journalists Allen et al. make the point that restricting the practice of photography can undercut free speech and that further legal restrictions ‘would burden the publication and dissemination of photographs by limiting the circumstances in which photographic images can be taken in the first place’. They maintain that ‘[r]egulations that target photography directly curtails the ability of photographers to communicate their messages to others’ Photographic images are utilised to evoke certain responses and to convey certain messages to the viewing public. Moreover the publication of photographic images includes the crafting of a desired audience response. Advocating First Amendment interests of expression Allen et al. maintain that, photography as a medium of ‘expression depends on the ability of photographers to capture images without undue governmental regulation’. They claim that interest in protecting individual privacy must be evaluated alongside other important values such as freedom of expression, the curtailing of which undermines democratic society. Satisfied with existing laws protecting privacy, which in their opinion provide adequate protection within the ‘invasion of privacy tort’ they warn that further restriction would result in the subsequent risk of liability that would limit not only the dissemination of news reports but also the methods of gathering information. From this perspective, further legal measures to protect privacy would ultimately undermine democracy through inhibiting freedom of speech.
In contrasting opinion Michael Harvey maintains that due to the weakness of the invasion of privacy tort ‘individuals whose privacy has been invaded by the public disclosure of personal information have no viable legal remedy in American jurisprudence’. Harvey portends that in upholding the first amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of the press courts have extended very little protection of privacy from the media. While there is an obvious need for balance between privacy and first amendment interests of press freedom, unwanted public disclosure on a widespread basis exacerbates such tensions between the interests. Harvey contends that reporters must establish whether first amendment interests outweigh those of privacy. If privacy is a value worth protecting press must be guided by duties of confidentiality where any breach of such duty would be deemed a liability. He advocates that rather than focusing on debates around privacy a shift to considerations of confidentiality are a better remedy to the weaknesses of the invasion of privacy tort.
Issues of confidentiality are intimately connected to those of consent. Deliberating on issues of confidentiality and consent in regard to the Payley and Bruce article, even if it was the case that the Kurdish girl’s mother consented to the publication of the photos and personal details, the reporter is obligated to consider whether the information was ethical for even the subject of the information to divulge. Therefore consent alone (in this case, a mother’s on behalf of a child) does not legitimate the publication of personal details. Moreover while adherence to ethics of confidentiality is an instrument for the protection of privacy, consent itself does not either prevent or legitimate press exposure. Reporters must evaluate whether the child’s mother had the moral or legal right to divulge the biographic information about her daughter or to consent to the photos of her trauma being publically disseminated. Moreover even if the mother provided consent, it does not immediately follow that Payley and Bruce had the moral or legal right to publish these details. In such a sensitive and private issue, does the Kurdish child have any viable and independent protection or right to privacy?
Payley and Bruce along with the Washington Post editorial staff are bound to establish whether first amendment interests outweigh the privacy interests of the child and others. Obtaining an appropriate balance is imperative not only in upholding a respect for these fundamental democratic interests but also in promoting professionalism of the press as agents in protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable. Journalistic professionalism is vital in attaining that the values of privacy and confidentiality are considered worthy of protection. As Allen et al. lay claim, ‘freedom of the press is indispensible to the survival of a democratic society’. This fact does not position the press as the arbiters and final judicators on these important issues. Nor does it mean that consent automatically legitimates exposure through mass publication. Moreover freedom of expression does not discount the importance of protection of privacy as a basic right and as also fundamental to a democratic society.
While legal deliberation is largely centered on the publication of private personal details that are not already known to the public rather than the protection of the private details that are already in the public realm (court records, birth statistics etc), others question the dichotomy between public and private. Elizabeth Paton-Simpson argues that discussions of privacy are premised on the simple bifurcation between public private resulting in a narrow impact of privacy law that is based on identifying private facts. Consequently legal arguments hinge upon identifying the nature of a private fact; on what can be considered private and what cannot. She argues that the potential for public access (such as publically held documents, medical records, birth certificates etc) does not decree all information a reasonable matter for general knowledge through mass publication. If an identity is recorded or a photograph taken it does not automatically follow that this is of general and legitimate public interest. The author contends that mass publication of already recorded information may still result in an offence to personal privacy and breach of the USA invasion of privacy tort.
Contributing to this discussion through defining the actions that would normatively be found to be a breach of privacy Paton-Simpson concurs that while the media embody the important role as societal watchdogs they are morally bound to consider the personal interests of privacy for the subjects of their reports. In establishing a loss of privacy in a legal sense, ‘the matter made public must be one which would be offensive and objectionable to a reasonable man [sic] of ordinary sensibilities’. Furthermore establishing whether there has been an infringement on privacy within the law of a ‘decent civil society’ those held responsible for the disclosure and publication of private details must provide a legitimate defense. A legitimate defense to a breech of privacy may be considered if the information disclosed is reasoned to be of public interest and is ‘of legitimate concern to democratic citizenry’. Media must evaluate whether the need to protect privacy is outweighed by the necessity of freedom of speech and whether the disclosure of identity is in fact of legitimate public interest.
Paton-Simpson affirms that protection of the information disclosed would outweigh the right of freedom of speech interests if this contributes to humiliation and distress through an infringement on the rights to privacy either immediately or in the future. She observes that guidelines to prevent identification are generally underpinned by ethical, theoretical questions and social norms that would usually prohibit such close exposure of private events such as funerals and further that general caution and sensitivity regarding children is normally exercised by professional reporters. Information concerning identity, sexuality and abuse is normally considered private and thus warrants legal protection. When this information regards children protection warrants the utmost importance and care.
In the case of this Kurdish child the reporters Paley and Bruce are expected to weigh the often-divergent interests of their rights of expression and duties to inform the public of human rights abuses with the consequential offense to personal privacy. In doing so they are required to assess which details are essential to that story and where there is a moral and legal duty to protect information related to privacy. Evaluating the proposed disclosure of the child’s identity, the reporters must consider the relevance and importance of the information to the story in order for a defense such as public interest to apply. While certain details of the story such as the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Kurdistan Iraq may warrant public and international inspection on universal humanitarian grounds, it is questionable whether other details such as those of the girl’s identity are necessary to include; is it appropriate that dissemination of these should extend to mass communication? Was it imperative to the story that these details were disclosed and were these details of legitimate public concern to the USA/global citizenry? Was it necessary to include the photo of the girl’s tortured face at the moment of suffering and humiliation? What benefit did the facial image have to the publication in conveying their desired story? Could her identity not have been disguised and her privacy and dignity protected?
International Duty to Protect the Rights of the Child
All journalists and media professionals have a duty to maintain the highest ethical and professional standards and should promote within the industry the widest possible dissemination of information about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its implications for the exercise of independent journalism.
Media organisations should regard violation of the rights of children and issues related to children’s safety, privacy, security, their education, health and social welfare and all forms of exploitation as important questions for investigation and public debate.
The competing rights of freedom of expression and protection of privacy are contested. Certain responsibilities such as obtaining prior permission for publication of personal details, protecting privacy (particularly of the vulnerable) and responsible methods of investigation and evaluation are grounds for contestation within the context of human rights. Journalists must take all possible steps to ensure that publication does not infringe upon the human rights of the subjects of study. Press reporting and freedom of expression concerning the coverage of stories regarding children are guided by United Nations codes of conduct that require special care. Additionally reporters covering the lives of children in situations of trauma must pay special consideration at all times to whether the publication of the report is in the best interests of the child as outlined in the United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). The UNCRC specifies that childhood be entitled to special care and assistance.
As the United States of America is one of the two countries in the world (the other being Somalia) that has not ratified the 1989 UNCRC Payley and Bruce (as citizens of the USA) may not be formally restrained by this essential guarantee. Nevertheless not having ratified the Convention or adopting this within domestic law does not make it reasonable for members of the national media to deny such internationally accepted rights. Moreover in this case Payley and Bruce although normally residing within the USA were acting inside another country where the codes of conduct concerning children are bound by international agreements to uphold the rights of the child as stipulated by the UNCRC. While, as citizens of the USA Payley and Bruce may not be bound by the UN convention and could theoretically depart from this, it would seem reasonable to assume that professional journalists endeavor to afford at least as much protection as the convention provides regardless of their citizenship status. It would seem safe to assume that upholding ethical standards of confidentiality, privacy and ensuring protection of the best interests of the child are fundamental commitments in the world of journalism. Upholding these would indeed promote professionalism and trust in the industry while raising standards of journalism in reporting on issues involving children through promoting children’s rights.
International human rights considerations are complex: at times conflicting and contested. For example in the Payley and Bruce report, UNICEF requirements for organizations and agencies to report on human rights abuses supports such investigation and dissemination of findings. In reporting on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in general, the study serves the interests of the children of Kurdistan Iraq through exposing such practice. Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for the protection of children from abuse, violence, maltreatment, and under Article 24 the Convention requires signatories to abolish traditional practices that are detrimental to child health. Article 36 protects the child against all form of exploitation prejudicial to any aspect of the child’s welfare and Article 37 protects against cruel treatment. Article 2. 2 states that ‘parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members’. Arguable the media has a roll and obligation to inform and report such abuses. However one would assume that these obligations refer to the duty to report such abuse to relevant agencies and organizations. It does not however seem reasonable that such details should be disseminated to the international press or to the World Wide Web.
In addition international agreements secure the rights to privacy of the child and uphold the best interest of the child at all times. The right to privacy is acknowledged in several international agreements. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child state that no one ‘shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honor and reputation’. The Optional Protocol, (Article 8 Section 1 e) requires that States protect, ‘as appropriate, the privacy and identity of child victims and tak[e] measures in accordance with national law to avoid the inappropriate dissemination of information that could lead to the identification of child victims’.
United Nations guidelines and principles are provided to journalists to protect against objectionable coverage in accordance with CRC. These prohibit invasive or culturally offensive reporting and require that journalists take into account the importance of traditional and cultural values in the harmonious development of the child. The UN recognizes that ‘in some instances the act of reporting on children places them or other children at risk of retribution or stigmatization’. As quoted earlier UNICEF stipulates that, [t]he best interests of each child are to be protected over any other consideration, including over advocacy for children’s issues and the promotion of child rights (UNICEF). The best interests of this little girl as an individual must be protected over any consideration including advocacy for and promotion of Kurdish children’s rights in general.
UNICEF has developed principles and guidelines to assist journalists as they interview and report on issues affecting children. These are offered to support the best intentions of ethical reporting: serving the public interest without compromising the rights of children. The following are just a few of those pertinent to this Washington Post report:
Do no harm to any child; avoid questions, attitudes or comments that are judgmental, insensitive to cultural values, that place a child in danger or expose a child to humiliation, or that reactivate a child’s pain and grief from traumatic events.
Ensure that the child or guardian knows they are talking with a reporter. Explain the purpose of the interview and its intended use.
Permission must be obtained in circumstances that ensure that the child and guardian are not coerced in any way and that they understand that they are part of a story that might be disseminated locally and globally.
Pay attention to where and how the child is interviewed. Try to make certain that children are comfortable and able to tell their story without outside pressure, including from the interviewer. Ensure that the child would not be endangered or adversely affected by showing their home, community or general whereabouts.
When in doubt about whether a child is at risk, report on the general situation for children rather than on an individual child, no matter how newsworthy the story (emphasis added).
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also provides guidelines for journalists working with sensitive issues and specifically those regarding the welfare of children. The guidelines state: ‘[p]hotographers, however, should give children, some extra consideration. They [children] have done nothing to deserve the attention of intrusive or insensitive paparazzi style behaviour’. Journalists and media organisations are thus obliged to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct in reporting on the lives of children and children have an absolute right to privacy. The Federation guidelines are in place to ensure that ‘journalistic activity which touches on the lives and welfare of children should always be carried out with appreciation of the vulnerable situation of children’. The aim of the guidelines is intended to support the standards and professionalism of journalism. In reporting on issues involving children the guidelines are in place to encourage media to promote children’s rights and expression. Among other stipulations the following steps are advocated in the interests of children and respectable ethical journalism. When dealing with children journalists must ‘strive for standards of excellence in terms of accuracy and sensitivity’, ‘avoid the use of stereotypes and sensational presentation, consider carefully the consequences and minimise harm to children, guard against identifying children unless it is demonstrably in the public interest, use fair, open and straightforward methods for obtaining pictures and where possible obtain them with the knowledge and consent of children.
In response to the Washington Post article British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) producer Benjamin Chesterton shares some of the carefully considered BBC producer guidelines for working with children. As with the UN and IFJ these stress the need for protection of the child from abuse and invasion of privacy, prioritizing the best interest of the child at all times. According to Chesterton ‘[t]hese guidelines are your bible when you work at the BBC and it is a sackable offense to willingly contravene them’. The guidelines ensure that children ‘are protected during the making and broadcast of programmes and online content, irrespective of any consent given by them or by a parent, guardian or other person in loco parentis’. Regarding privacy Chesterton sees no valid reason for the failure to protect the child’s rights to privacy.
During my 14 months living in Ethiopia there was never an occasion that we would identify a child who had been abused. It’s completely unnecessary to get across the horror of their abuse. Think about it you don’t need to watch an actual rape to know its wrong. Listening to the victim tell their story is as powerful and you will learn more.
Responses to the article: Anything Goes in Iraq
There’s no question that “shining the light” on the nasty practice of FGM is worthwhile and desirable, but not this way. This is exploitation at its worst. No one is arguing against covering this story…the issue at hand is how ethical was the photographer, the Washington Post and the rest of the organization in publishing the story as it appeared? If that’s still debatable, then our morality as human beings has sunk to incomprehensible levels.
Reactions to the Payley/Bruce report were immediately voiced on the Washington Post website. These range from charges of ‘endemic disregard for people in developing countries’ and the need for ‘serious discussions about protecting identity of victims’ to questions of whether the photographer Andrea Bruce was right to take a photograph of a seven year old girl’s face whilst she was suffering such an assault on her body. Questions are raised as to why she ‘chose to permit an atrocity to occur in front of her because she wanted to take a picture of it’. While Payley is criticized for careless and inaccurate research on female genital mutilation and for glossing over the practice by using the term circumcision, Bruce is condemned as failing to exercise her ‘moral duty to protect rights and welfare of children’ before her career and before exploiting a young child’s trauma: ‘What else did it achieve other than broadcast her humiliation and win an award?’. The Washington Post is criticized for making the ‘hypocritical editorial decision to publish these images’. The responses call into question the hubris, hypocrisy and bias of the reporters in their actions of disregard for the girl’s personal dignity. But of course that wouldn’t happen in the US because we would all be in an uproar about protecting the kids. But a seven-year-old Kurdish girl doesn’t deserve the same respect. And that, given the state of the world affairs, is the crux of the problem. When we stop caring what happens to the individual we stop caring about what happens to the whole.
Granting to Andrea Bruce the esteemed media awards speaks volumes in regards to the values of the news media industry in the USA and regrettably many Washington Post readers responded quite predictably with disgust and even hatred towards the Kurds rather than showing signs of acquired understanding.
Although some Kurdish activists welcomed the publication for its exposure and condemnation of female genital mutilation Kurdish people also responded with shock to the graphic and open delivery of what is normally kept very private. Many Kurdish, Iraqi and international websites concerned with the practice of FGM posted the Payley/Bruce article. Rather than offering any critical perspective the websites simply posted the article and accepted comments from readers. They did not question the intrusiveness of the report or the misappropriation of a child’s personal story. While Kurdish websites posted the Washington Post article there has been no publicised questioning to date regarding the journalistic ethics of exposing of the girls violated body and personal details. In general Kurdish response has been minimal in the news media. Ending the practice of genital mutilation in Kurdistan has been a consistent and lengthy fight. Actions to change the laws relating to FGM have been taken prior to the Payley/Bruce report and these continue. Although the Washington Post article reports that the practice is accepted as an unquestioned indoctrination deeply ingrained in ancient traditional mores, a review of Kurdish media reveals an established struggle to eradicate the practice. These struggles continue with no reference to the Payley/Bruce article.
The Travel Photographer and Duck Rabbit websites are the only websites offering direct critique of this article. Both offer immediate and informed criticism questioning the ethics involved in reporting, investigation and publication. Both sites received encouraging responses from readers. Both blogs recognise the value in covering such an issue but both question the editorial hypocrisy that sanctioned the publication of personal details and facial images. ‘By all means, publish the feature to enlist support against the practice, but grant this young girl the same dignity as we would to someone in the United States or Europe. Or is it just cheap sensationalism at the expense of Kurds who don’t know any better?’. El-Sawy makes the point that it would not have been difficult to protect the privacy of the Kurdish girl and further that the decision not to do so would have been viewed as unacceptable should the child have been a subject of the USA.
I realize Andrea Bruce needs to earn a living, but she’s a talented and experienced photographer and could’ve used simple photographic techniques to preserve [the girl’s] privacy, while still conveying the atrocity of this ignoble practice. The editors of the Washington Post didn’t even think of hiding the poor girl’s name…they published it in full. They would have never published these photographs if the girl lived in Kansas, or Ohio, or California…or Europe, or wherever else there was a legal system capable of redressing this obscene trespassing of privacy. This child is only 7 years old and her image and name are made public…on the web?
There is no question that journalists are in a unique position as advocates of human rights. ‘They act as the eyes, ears and voices of the public, drawing attention to abuses of power and human rights’. Their work they can affect changes that will improve the quality of people’s lives and encourage governments, NGOs and civil society organizations to bring about constructive social change in the interest of human rights. Media investigation is one of the best tools in our global environment to affect serious efforts to benefit people who suffer abuses of their human rights. Freedom of expression for the media is freedom of expression for human rights and these must be upheld. Moreover it must be acknowledged that journalists covering stories in war-torn contexts such as Iraq face serious dangers. These are of grave concern as journalists are targets of abduction and murder. There is little doubt that the state of human rights for the world’s people benefit from the work of professional journalists. However, as this paper shows the economy of war, occupation and invasion creates an imbalance between a journalist’s right to freedom of expression and people’s rights to privacy. In such an environment it seems that freedom of expression is given precedence irrespective of the harm or distress caused to the subject or victim of that expression. Moreover, the public appetite for scandal that provides reporters with an avenue for maintaining economic security also inculcates the public, the newsreader, into such media imaginings. The responsibility to protect children from such invasive desires is ours. It crosses geographical boundaries as well as those that demarcate the lines between producers and consumers of media.
In the publication of this report a child’s human rights and particularly her right to privacy have been invaded. She has clearly been identified even though there is no apparent legitimate public interest in publishing her biographical details or the photographic images of her face. There is no evidence that the report has generated constructive public understanding. There is no evidence that suggests it was necessary to include personal details in this story. The inclusion of these has not significantly (if at all) supported those working against the practice of FGM in Southern Kurdistan. It is doubtful that permission was obtained to disseminate the photographs or that the girl understood the reasons for her entrapment and recording of her mutilation. There is no way of knowing how this will impact on the girl’s future and it seems that considerations of her future have been dismissed. There has been no regard for protection of sources. There is no evidence that Payley or Bruce, or the Washington Post gave thought to international press guidelines, or to considerations of respect for rights to privacy, or duty to uphold the dignity of the subjects of their reporting as required under the UNCRC. The young girl was trapped, she was deceived and she was brutalised. The story relied on these duplicitous methods of investigation to share these images of a child’s suffering. This does not bode well for the industry of international media. ‘In the meantime, we remain tone deaf and naively wonder why we are disliked by so many’.
Through failing to focus on the Kurdish girl’s rights Payley and Bruce have ensured Washington Post ratings and industry awards. Meanwhile the Washington Post and the USA media elite ignore such obvious intrusion and hypocrisy. Ultimately the Washington Post editorial board is responsible for this transgression of the child’s rights to privacy through their failure to protect the subjects of the publication. Would legal regulations that protect this vulnerable child’s dignity really undermine democracy and inhibit journalistic freedom as Allen et al lay claim? Would preventing journalists like Payley and Bruce from participating in the entrapment of this child in the quest for an award-winning image really amount to undue governmental or industry regulation? The fetishisation of media rights to freedom of expression that sanction such intrusive journalism is alarming.
In this coverage the little girl’s genitals are traded for candy; her privacy, for the media’s collusion to create a public reading of violence; and for a photojournalist to parade her success. Both Payley and Bruce under the guidance of the Washington Post have narrated a private tragedy turned into a public spectacle. Showing a lack of respect for human dignity these ethical responsibilities are cast aside in the pursuit of a picture, a story and acclaim. The girl’s little body, her privacy, dignity and her suffering have been exploited for reasons she could not imagine.
This is a report that may well demonise the Kurds of Northern Iraq for engaging this brutal practice of bodily mutilation but simultaneously the callous disregard for this young girl’s body is found in the practices of the USA journalists and indeed the USA media industry as a whole. The abhorrent practices of genital mutilation as well as shameful media intrusions into people’s lives meet upon the bodies of little girls in Southern Kurdistan. In that house in a remote village of Northern Iraq the photographer and the midwife come together. They both engage in exploitation of the child, in abuse of her human dignity and they both participate in the staging of her suffering as part of their jobs. The child becomes window dressing, her dignity and suffering denied as the rusty razorblade and the state of the art camera combine to compound her abuse.
 In contrast the USA media have made an effort not to show the faces and bodies of the wounded and dead USA soldiers in Iraq. Only carefully vetted, sanitised images of what the USA is doing in Iraq are disseminated. See M. Otterman and R. Hil Erasing Iraq: The Human Cost of Carnage. Pluto Press: London (2010).
 In order to offer at least some protection of this child’s privacy I have omitted her name from my discussion. I have also omitted any reference to the names of her her mother and the midwife. Throughout this paper, including within direct quotations, I have referred to the subjects of the Washington Post article as ‘the child’, ‘the girl’, ‘the mother’ and ‘the midwife’. The reader is provided with the link to the Washington Post article and thus my paper does not provide complete protection.
 A. Payley ‘For Kurdish Girls, a painful Ancient Ritual’ at
 Special correspondents Nian Ahmed and Dlovan Brwari contributed to the report. Id.
 ‘Stressing that all girls deserve to grow up free from harmful practices that endanger their well-being, United Nations officials on Sunday called for abolishing the practice of female genital mutilation to help millions lead healthier lives’ UN News at
 Andrea Bruce was named the 2009 Photographer of the Year by the White House News Photographers Association for her feature on female genital mutilation in Kurdistan, Iraq. The National Press Photographers Association awarded Andrea Bruce second place in the International News Story with her photo essay the young girl in Southern Kurdistan.
 A conversation I had recently with a colleague in Kurdistan who is critical of the Washington Post report expressed ‘a major concern which is the lack of consideration for the so called ‘locals’. The USA is claiming the protection of Human Rights, but only when that human was born in the States’ (Anonymous Kurdistan 2010).
 Manipulation and strategic use of USA news media leading up to and during the Iraq war where media were forbidden to show the bodies of armed forces and where staged media images of celebration at the toppling of Saddam Hussein and women’s suffering were engaged to condone and sustain occupation. While living and working as an academic in Iraq from 2006 to 2009 I was alarmed at the lack of ethical consideration in reporting, investigation, filmmaking and academic research. Many books, films and so on have been produced through the assumed freedom from such restraints.
 See, F. P. Hosken, ‘Female Genital Mutilation and Human Rights’ Feminist Issues (1981) 3; A. A. Idowu, ‘Effects of Female Genital-Mutilation on Human Rights of Women and Female Children: The Nigerian Situation’ Research Journal of International Studies 8 Nov (2008) 13; C. Momoh, (ed.)‘FGM and issues of gender and human rights of women’, in Female Genital Mutilation Radcliffe Publishing Ltd: UK (2005); R. Akinyemi, ‘Political Dimensions of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Africa’ at http://www.african-women.org/documents/political-dimensions.pdf (last visited 6/2010); A. H. Asaah, 2008 ‘Challenges of Our Times: Responses of African/Diasporan Intellectuals to FGM’ AFROEUROPA: Journal of Afroeuropean Studies, Vol 2 No.1 2008; Human Rights Watch ‘They Took Me and Told me Nothing: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan’ at http://www.peacewomen.org/assets/image/News/hrw_genital_mutilation_in_iraqi_kurdistan.pdf (last visited 2/20011).
 Please see, A. Kennedy, ‘Mutilation and Beautification’, Australian Feminist Studies, 24:60, (2009) 211; J. Rogers, ‘A Child is Being Mutilated’ Australian Feminist Studies, 24:60, (2009) 181.
 The report exposes the fact that the child was set up, by her mother, but they do not make it known that the Washington Post reporters were participants in this.
 The crafting of stereotypical, racist, anti-Islamic and divisive images of Iraqi people in this Payley/Bruce article is the focus of my current research, Imagining Iraqi Barbarism. Indeed as early as the 1920’s when the British were in command of the area the Kurds were stereotypically referred to as the incalcitrant Arabs unable of civilisation. Kurdish people have suffered a long history of discord and struggles sustained through such ethnocentric and pathologising stereotypes.
 I have previously discussed the configuration of Kurds as barbaric and inhumane within public reactions to Honour Killings in Kurdistan. See, S. Phelps, “Spectacles of Honor: Barbarism within Civilized Reactions to Public Killing”, in, Lynda-Ann Blanchard & Leah Chan (eds) (2009) Iraq, Never Again: Ending War, Building Peace University of Sydney Press: Sydney.
 While it is evident that there are mounting local efforts to eliminate this practice in Southern Iraq, the practice is still accepted amongst many people in the region. As the report articulates, the practice of FGM amongst people of Southern Kurdistan is complex; it is both abhorred and venerated.
 E. Paton-Simpson, ‘Private Circles and Public Squares: Invasion of Privacy by the Publication of ‘Private Facts’’, The Modern Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 3 (May, 1998) 318.
M. Harvey, “Confidentiality: A Measured Response to the Failure of Privacy”, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 140 No. 6 (Jun., 1992) 2385 at 2390.
 Contestation regarding the rights and wrongs of this practice and ambiguities of the law aside international agreements regarding the protection of the rights of children do not condone the exposure of abuse of children through denying children’s basic rights to privacy; two wrongs do not make a right.
 Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis ‘The Right to Privacy’, 4 HARV. L. REV. I93, I96 I890
 T. Allen et. al. ‘Privacy, Photography, and the Press’, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 111, No. 4 (Feb., 1998) 1086.
 R. Beddard, ‘Photographs and the Rights of the Individual’. The Modern Law Review, Vo. 58 No. 6 (Nov. 1995) 771.
 The continued practice of FGM in Iraq shows an obvious failure within Iraq to align local law with signed and ratified treaties that support the elimination of FGM. Iraq has yet to establish these rights firmly in domestic law and thus fails to offer adequate protection for Iraqi people. However, this failure on the part of Iraqi law should not obfuscate the ways in which this report and media coverage of Iraq in general ignore international agreements pertinent to Iraqi law, adequately implemented or not.
 If the Washington Post had permission from the girl’s family to publish these photographs, this should have been mentioned in the article. ‘By all means, publish this photo essay in an effort to publicize the abhorrent practice, and to arouse the public’s awareness of it…but do it in such a way that protects the dignity of the innocent victim, and ensures her privacy’. T. El-Sawy WHNPA’s Picture Story Award’ at http://thetravelphotographer.blogspot.com/2009/03/whnpas-picture-story-award.html last visited 2/11.
 ‘Could they have known that consent meant that the photos would be published in print and online by one of America’s major papers and potentially seen by hundreds of thousands of people; that the photos would be entered into a contest, thereby reaching many thousands more; and that the photos would live forever, digitally archived on the web and its successors? Could they have known that most of the hundreds of thousands of people who see the images (mostly westerners, I strongly suspect) would condemn them for their actions, viewing them with a mixture of pity and contempt?’ (El-Sawy 2009).
 The need to extend special care to children has been acknowledged since 1924 with the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child followed by the ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1959 and acknowledged in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (in particular in articles 23 and 24) and in the 1996 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (in particular in article 10.
 The USA played a central role in the drafting of the initial text of the Convention and signed in 1995, as well as signing and ratifying both the optional protocols to the convention. However, the convention itself is yet to be incorporated within domestic law. President, Barack Obama described the failure to ratify the Convention as ’embarrassing’ but is yet to review this. While religious and political conservatives object to the convention in claiming that it undermines parent’s rights and that laws protecting children in the USA are adequate, the main objections to ratifying the convention lie in the articles relating to the prohibition of children to be given the death penalty. There has been no objection to the protection of privacy for children.
 ‘The consequences of these photos are devastating on the little girl and the family. It is terrible, I wondered what stupid so called women rights advocate accompanied them to that place and gave them such misleading statistics and off course they did not double check. The awards that photographer won are shameful’ (Anonymous Kurdistan 2010).
 ‘These guidelines were first adopted in draft by journalist’s organisations from 70 countries at the world’s first international consultative conference on journalism and child rights held in Recife, Brazil, on May 2nd 1998. After regional conferences and workshops they were finally adopted at the Annual Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Seoul in 2001. The guidelines were presented by the IFJ at the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Exploitation of Children held at Yokohama, Japan, in December 2001’ McIntyre, supra note 56 at 61.
 If Payley and Bruce consider that FGM is a crime are they not accomplices to that crime and should they not be culpable?
 ‘I wholeheartedly support any effort to eradicate this barbaric tradition, but showing [the girl’s] face in Bruce’s photographs is what outrages me. By all means, publish the feature to enlist support against the practice, but grant this young girl the same dignity as we would to someone in the United States or Europe. Or is it just cheap sensationalism at the expense of Kurds who don’t know any better?’ T. El-Sawy, supra note 48.
 People that I spoke with in Arbil said that this may be due to the fact that many Kurdish women are not accustomed to having the privilege of privacy rights and generally do not consider this a right that they can claim. Moreover, there is no reason why Kurdish people should wish to divulge any response to such an invasion of privacy and obvious reasons why they would wish to protect at least their thoughts on the matter. To my knowledge this specific issue of invasion of privacy was not and has yet to be raised in Kurdistan by Kurdish people.
 The situation on the street of Kurdistan and in the homes of people, among friends and in government offices is likely to have been very different.
 Photojournalist David White and BBC Radio 4 documentaries producer Benjamin Chesterton are duckrabbit. ‘David was a contributing editor of Marie Claire. Benjamin was the Country Director of the BBC World Service trust in Ethiopia. Both are respected in their own fields having picked up numerous awards’. D. Chesterton & D.White ‘About Duckrabbit’ at http://duckrabbit.info/about/ last visited 2/11.