Media outlets have been called on to use care when describing drug users and to not disclose details that might reveal their identity or that of their family in order to avoid harming their chances of treatment.
The call came in a meeting with journalists to remind them of the Joint Declaration on the Media Code of Conduct For Reporting Related to Drug Use and Drug Users held in the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
Chhay Sophal, journalism professor and deputy director of the CCJ, said drug users should be considered as victims and patients, with the media having a responsibility to help them.
“Drug users are victims and patients, so we will cause them further harm if we call them things like ‘drug-play gangster’, ‘drug addict boy or ‘drug-mad girl’. These terms will make them more despairing."
“As journalists, we should try to not use accusatory words but rather those that encourage them to seek treatment”.
The Media Code of Conduct on Drug Use has 15 articles, including guidelines on not using discriminatory words or those with a stigma attached in the reporting of drug use as the shame caused could disrupt a user’s treatment.
Information that could reveal a drug user’s identity or that of their family in either an article or in photographs, audio or video should also not be used.
Journalists also have the duty to not use language that will cause shame or embarrassment when reporting on drug use.
Choub Sok Chamreun, the executive director of HIV/Aids NGO Khana, said journalism is an important tool in inspiring drug users to get treatment, but if journalists didn’t implement the Media Code of Conduct they could further harm users and their families.
“The harm that can be done to their reputation by revealing details about their identity could make users too ashamed to come for treatment, and this will worsen their condition."
“But if journalists were supportive, then it would help them have the confidence to find help because now we have many treatment facilities,” Sok Chamreun said.
A Ministry of Health report said Cambodia has 16 provisional drug treatment centres and 430 district, provincial and city hospitals that can provide help.