When urinating and defecating on the streets became a criminal offence in California, Tim decided to create his own enclosed toilet. He set out a tent on the street behind a Wal-Mart, cut out a hole on a chair, and attached to it some plastic containers so homeless people like him (especially homeless women) could have some privacy when responding to the call of nature. They would also avoid breaching the law. He would then take the full plastic containers, empty them out in a public bathroom somewhere in the city, and then bring them back empty—ensuring the improvised toilet would in place again and again and again whenever needed. Tim lives on the streets in the United States. He is considered a human rights hero because he tried to ensure sanitation for his fellow homeless citizens.
The story was not reported by the media, but by Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. She pointed out that often stories like these go unreported, especially because less people expect to encounter violations of human rights in developed countries. But they do happen, and the media should report about them. Because the media should promote human rights. Or at least that is what many people, starting with human rights activists, expect from the journalists. But is the promotion of human rights really a role of the media? No.
The media does not have the explicit role of promoting human rights. It only has to inform its target group of things not working in society, and of things not being respected as they should. Unfortunately, the international human rights treaties to which many countries have adhered are very often the victims of violations. This is what the media reports about. This is what the media is there to tell. The media is responsible in reporting about human rights violations, but it is not the direct promoter of human rights. At the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, Catarina de Albuquerque advised journalists to get their stories right when it comes to human rights. In the same way, human rights activists and the public should get the role of the media right when it comes to promoting human rights.
By: Carmen Paun