Media: The Power of Dignity or Shame

Media: The Power of Dignity or Shame

A recent media campaign by a Cambodian NGO, portraying children in rags and labelling them as “a sex worker” or “a street kid” has kicked off a storm of discussion. How do we as NGOs portray or represent the people we are trying to help?  While many children and families do live in poverty, we need to be careful not to strip people of their dignity.

Modern media and communication travel instantaneously. Millions have access to people’s stories, photos, and videos, with or without consent. Issues and topics can polarize audiences and inspire strong emotions. For NGOs, getting noticed is tough. While we set out to inform and raise awareness, we often lose focus on honoring people as we strive to maintain our audience.


Proverbs 18:21 begins by saying, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”

Words have the power to build up or tear down whether in speech or in print. With this power is great responsibility. It is an honor and privilege to handle people’s stories. 

Extreme poverty is never the whole truth of a person’s life, even though it may be a part. Poverty does not diminish the worth of a life. It does not stop people from holding  hopes, desires, dreams. The way we show a person’s heart needs to be respectful, and to acknowledge their wider story.


Photographing children and families means respecting the dignity and wishes of the subjects.

Sometimes we have to ask, “How would I like to be portrayed to the world?”

We would never answer, “Unbathed,  hair dishevelled, dressed in rags, next to a pile of rubbish.”


In light of the recent media conversation, and without commenting specifically on the NGO it surrounds, we wanted to share our approach to media policies and our families. A few key points that might be good for you to know, as someone following CIF in our work, are:

  • We never ask a family to share their story if doing so exposes them to risk of harm, or will have a negative impact on their well-being.
  • We limit the amount we ask any family to help us with media needs.
  • We always seek to portray our clients and families in ways that uphold their inherent dignity and worth.
  • We never, never, take or share photos, videos, or other media of them without their explicit understanding and written consent. We ask for that consent every time, even if they have given consent for their story to be told before.

CIF also ensures our families are aware that their support from us is not contingent upon them sharing their stories or photographs. If they decline, they will not be penalized or treated differently.

After photos are taken, we also show them to the family, and they do not like the way they are portrayed, we don’t use them. This ensures they have a say and control.

Our first goal is to empower and build up families, giving children a chance at a healthy and loving childhood. We recognize media is a powerful tool to raise awareness and funds, but it should never come before the respect and dignity of our children and families.

If you have any questions about our media policy, please feel free to get in touch! You can learn more about our approach on our ABOUT US Page

Media: The Power of Dignity or Shame