Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD[1] to Cape Times for flouting the Maintenance Act by indirectly identifying the children involved in a maintenance dispute which resulted in a murder.

Unpaid maintenance allegedly drove woman to kill father of her two children” (Cape Times, 01/07/2020) reports about a woman who stabbed the father of her two children for allegedly failing to pay child maintenance. According to the story, the woman who is reported to have stabbed the deceased before, turned herself in at the police station. The story which is published on the IOL website, identifies the deceased, the deceased’s brother and the street where the incident happened. This indirectly identifies the children.

Children in such stories always need to be protected from potential harm and it is the role of the journalists to ensure that this is done. In this story, the media has failed to protect the identity of the two children whose parents were involved in a maintenance dispute which resulted in one parent being murdered. This indirect identification of the children made Cape Times contravene Section 36 of the Maintenance Act 99 of 98.[2] The Section states that “No person shall publish in any manner whatsoever the name or address of any person under the age of 18 years who is or was involved in any proceedings at a maintenance enquiry or the name of her school or any other information likely to reveal the identity of that person.”

That this is now a murder case should have made Cape Times more cautious to not reveal the children’s identities.

MMA urges journalists to ensure the rights of the children involved in such stories are always protected. We are of the view that these stories have the potential to victimise or humiliate the children involved as their peers or other members of society might begin to view them as abandoned children because their parent could not pay for their maintenance. It is for this reason that MMA urges journalists to always adhere to ethics as supported by Section 8.1.1 of the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media[3] by assessing the impact of such stories on the children involved. The best interests of the children as supported by Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights of the South African constitution must always be promoted.

MMA urges Cape Times to always gauge the value of adding to stories certain information like identities and to leave them out if doing so subjects the children to harm. We look forward to reading more ethically reported stories about children in future, stories that report what happened without revealing the identity of the children involved, either directly or otherwise.

By Musa Rikhotso

[1] A MAD refers to an article where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible reporting.