Opinion: Leader - Young people need to be seen and heard

'Boy, 11, knifes crying tot', 'Rapist pupil, 15, jailed for life', 'Yobs' victim was to be dad again' - these are headlines taken from just one day this week.

The stories are certainly shocking, but so is the overall impression the reader is encouraged to form about the 'youth of today'. Tales of 'happy slapping', ASBOs and gang violence are legion and one begins to see every teenager on the street as a potential assailant.

The result, as our feature 'Behind the hoodie' reveals this week (page 22), is that PR people working for the UK's dozens of youth organisations face an uphill struggle to convince us that young people have any valuable contribution to make to society.

This is wrong, of course. But unlike a corporation or political party, young people lack the financial resources to improve their reputation.

There is the British Youth Council and the Youth Parliament, but these bodies are up against the might of the tabloid media, which feel obligated to scare us to death about hooded yobs. They are also up against a government with apparently similar motives. Press releases from the Home Office are littered with references to 'yobs' and 'hooligans' while John Prescott was recently only too happy to recount his story of being 'threatened' by youths at a service station.

To highlight the scale of the problem, PRWeek's stablemate title Young People Now published research last year showing that only eight per cent of stories about young people contained a quote from young people. Hardly balanced reporting.

As a result YPN launched a campaign called Positive Images, with awards for those media, councils and youth groups that make a real effort to present young people in a fair light. The campaign has made some headway, building young people's 'share of voice' in the media.

While we should of course condemn and combat anti-social behaviour, it is in our commercial and moral interests to give young people a fair hearing.

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