Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives SowetanLIVE a MAD[1] for this article, “Teenager raped by a man posing as a municipal official” (30/03/2020) in which a traumatised girl was interviewed and quoted.

The article is about a 17-year-old-girl who was allegedly raped at home by a man posing as a municipal official. The story reports that the man told her that he needed to check the meter reading in the house after reportedly checking around the house. The girl goes on to mention in the article that her father had just left 30 minutes prior to the incident. Police spokesperson, Raider Ubisi gives details of other rapes that have gone on in the surrounding areas and that a perpetrator “linked to multiple rapes has been arrested”. The child was interviewed and is quoted in the article.

By interviewing the child, SowetanLIVE flouted Section 8.1.1. of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South Africa Print and Online Media[2] that says, “If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child,  he or she shall not be interviewed… without the consent of a legal guardian….and a public interest is evident..”

Since the article does not indicate whether the child underwent counselling for her traumatic ordeal, MMA is of the view that she should not have been interviewed before getting professional help. Asking her to re-tell the story was not in the child’s best interests. Recounting a story before getting help may cause secondary trauma which may negatively impact the child. The mention of her family being present during the interview makes no difference as they are not trained professionals in dealing with trauma, unless the article deliberately leaves this information out. That the child said in the article “the incident changed her life” should have made the journalist more sensitive when reporting the story.

The Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media explain that when working with children, journalists should ask for guidance from experts on whether a child is able to speak about a traumatic ordeal after going through counselling. Quoting the child is irresponsible as it this may be used against her to intimidate or discredit her since this is now a police matter.

MMA urges SowetanLIVE to be mindful of negative situations surrounding their child sources and put the children’s needs before the story. We look forward to reading more articles about children that put their best needs at heart.

By Bantse Pelle

[1] A MAD is given to a journalist and news publication for irresponsible reporting on children under 18