Daily Sun’s article “I blame myself” (18/05/2012, p.8) is one to be MAD1 about. The article about a mother who blames herself for her son getting burnt lacks context, does not protect the identity of the child, and subjects him to further harm.
According to the report, the mother left her son sleeping in a room with a candle burning next to the bed. The candle allegedly burnt the curtain which in turn set the bedding on fire.
The boy who has been taken away by social workers is pictured wrapped in a bandage.
Although well-intentioned, given the mother’s efforts (as stated in the article) to raise awareness about the dangers of leaving children alone with a lit candle, more thought should have been put into the way this was done.The mother’s lamentation and recalling of events rather than the best interests of the child appear to be the main issue in this article.
Considering that the child is a victim of neglect which is considered a form of child abuse under the Children’s Act and has endured a lot of trauma2, extra care was needed to ensure that he is not identified in the media as he is a victim of child abuse.
Therefore, failing to protect the identity of the child is not only unethical and a violation of his dignity but is in contravention of the Children’s Act and Section 28 (2) of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution which emphasises that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all matters concerning the child including for journalists reporting on children.
Since the child is also in the legal care of social workers informed consent3 should have been sought for the child to be identified in the media in order to protect him from further harm. However, it is unclear whether this was done.
Daily Sun could have taken the opportunity to further raise issues relating to child neglect or burned children in the country and provided preventative measures. However, these issues were not thoroughly unpacked or linked to the reported incident resulting in a lack of context.
Given that with burn survival also comes a need for support and information to cope with the emotional, mental, and spiritual issues that remain with the physical scars4, Daily Sun missed the opportunity to educate people about the ways in which they can help burn survivors. The journalist could have brought to surface these very issues and accurate information.
Media Monitoring Africa acknowledges the need for the media to report on stories like these, however we emphasise that providing context is just as important. The trauma and other unforeseen consequences often associated with such stories necessitate great responsibility and the need for ethical practice for the well-being of the children involved.
1. MMA highlights cases of good and best practice, where the media has promoted the rights, interests and welfare of children, they are awarded “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MAD↩
2.Burns can be physically and psychologically devastating. see title=“http://www.madd.org/victim-services/finding-support/victim-resources/living-with-burn-injury.pdf”>http://www.madd.org/victim-services/finding-support/victim-resources/living-with-burn-injury.pdf ↩
3. Informed consent is defined as: An agreement to do something or to allow something to happen made with complete knowledge of all relevant facts, such as the risks involved, or any available alternatives. Seetitle=“https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/images/uploads/childrenmentoring.pdf”>https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/images/uploads/childrenmentoring.pdf↩
4. See title=“http://www.madd.org/victim-services/finding-support/victim-resources/living-with-burn-injury.pdf”>http://www.madd.org/victim-services/finding-support/victim-resources/living-with-burn-injury.pdf ↩