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Sowetan fails to protect a traumatised child

23 June 2017

Two articles by Sowetan are selected for a MAD1  by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) as they both failed to act in the best interests of the child in their reporting.

The first article, “’l’ m too scared to bury my father’” (18/05/2017, p.3) relays a story involving a dispute in the family of a murdered actor. According to both articles, the actor was shot and killed outside a pub in Soweto while allegedly trying to help two women who were being mugged.

The article reports that the deceased’s family is alleged to “have chosen his girlfriend to sit on the mourning mattress, instead of his wife who he has two children with”. The journalist interviewed a 14-year-old daughter to the wife of the actor and described how the child’s mother did not want to be interviewed but allowed for the media to speak to her daughter. According to the 14-year-old, she as well as her brother and mother were being excluded from her father’s funeral activities.

MMA argues that the journalist did not act in the best interests of the child by interviewing her. Considering the sensitivity and controversy surrounding the story, and the trauma that is experienced by the child as a result of losing a parent, Sowetan should have exercised caution and minimised potential harm. By making the child comment on the family dispute days after her father’s death, Sowetan subjected the child to further trauma, which may result from having to speak about her grief. Although the teenager’s mother gave permission to the journalist to speak to her child, the journalist’s primary obligation was to the child. Therefore, the journalist should have exercised her duty to gauge whether interviewing the child under these circumstances was in the child’s best interests. This is in line with Section 28(2) of the Constitution and Times Group Media’s own Code of Conduct which Sowetan is bound by which states “The South African Constitution states that the ‘child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child’. In our reporting on the lives and welfare of children, we undertake to act in accordance with the Constitution and in appreciation of the vulnerable situation of children.”

In “Pain at death tears family apart” (19/05/2017, p.3), Sowetan continued to report on the feud in the family of the ‘slain’ actor.  Again, the journalist focused on the actor’s 14-year-old daughter and her mother but in this instance, at the actor’s memorial service. The article described how the ‘emotional’ child “fought back the tears when she heard her father’s voice recording being played’’ and how she later walked out of the service crying when a letter from her father’s girlfriend was about to be read. An up-close photograph showing the grief-stricken child crying, accompanied the story.

MMA argues that again, Sowetan should have respected this private moment and the child’s right to privacy and to mourn her father in a manner that is non-invasive.

We hope that Sowetan will strive to do more to act in children’s best interests when reporting on stories of this nature in future.

By Girlie Sibanda


1.MADs refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage