Using a human rights lens to uncover the stories behind the headlines

Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.

– Henry Anatole Grunwald, former Managing Editor, Time Magazine

Every December 10, we mark Human Rights Day, a reminder of the ongoing struggle for fundamental rights and freedoms of all. Human rights are not abstract concepts; they are woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

While human rights abuses often capture headlines due to their shocking nature, novelty, and potential to spark conflict and strong emotions – factors that align with traditional news values – effective human rights reporting goes beyond immediate crises. It requires understanding the underlying systemic issues, the actors involved and the potential for positive change.

A holistic approach to human rights reporting
Human rights reporting demands a shift from reactive coverage to a more proactive and comprehensive approach. It entails investigating the root causes of violations, scrutinising the actions of duty bearers (government officials, corporations, and other entities obligated to uphold human rights), and tracking the progress of advocacy efforts. By moving beyond the immediate event, journalists can illuminate the broader context, assess the human cost, and consider the potential for long-term impact.

Connect the dots and illuminate the complexities
Effective human rights reporting uses clear, concise, and accessible language to explain complex issues and unravel their interconnectedness. Explanatory reporting empowers audiences to understand the bigger picture and connect seemingly disparate events. By providing context and analysis, journalists can bridge the gap between abstract concepts and lived experiences, enabling a deeper understanding of human rights issues and their relevance.

Empower people to claim their rights
Human rights reporting has the potential to be a powerful tool for individual and collective empowerment. By informing rights holders of their fundamental entitlements and showcasing successful stories of individuals claiming them, journalists can inspire others to take action. This can create a ripple effect, nurturing a sense of ownership and equipping individuals with the knowledge and confidence to demand their rights and challenge injustices.

Hold advocacy accountable
Journalists must extend their critical lens beyond documenting abuses and violations. They must also scrutinise the actions of those seeking to address these issues, holding them accountable for their promises and ensuring transparency in their efforts. This helps to ensure the effectiveness of advocacy campaigns and prevents them from becoming mere lip service or opportunities for self-promotion.

Be a voice for the voiceless
Human rights reporting plays a role in documenting violations and providing a platform for the voices often silenced or marginalised. By providing a platform for these voices and ensuring stories are heard by a wider audience, journalists can contribute to public awareness and support for advocacy efforts. This documentation is a powerful tool for holding perpetrators accountable and creating pressure for meaningful change.

ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]

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