It is quite unfortunate to come across a good article from The Star that deserves a GLAD1 and just right below it one that merits a MAD2. This kind of coverage by The Star highlights a clear need for consistency when it comes to reporting on children.

The first article “Boy who strangled mom had bright future” (The Star, 18/08/2014, p. 2) draws attention to a 14-year-old boy who allegedly murdered his mother. It gives details of the events as they occurred and what prompted his decision to commit the crime.

What stands out about this article is the level of privacy that is afforded to the boy. His identity is protected throughout the article. When interviewing the boy’s aunt, the journalist, Kutlwano Olifant, went even further in her efforts to conceal the child’s identity by stating “the boy’s aunt cannot be named to prevent his identity being known because he is a minor.”

In addition, a picture of the family of the accused, which was published alongside the article, was taken in such a way that one cannot make out the identities of his family members. Media monitors from Parkhurst Primary3 also mentioned that they liked the picture because “it protects the dignity and privacy of the child”.

This kind of reporting is in line with the provisions set out in the Criminal Procedure Act4 which call for the protection of identities of children under the age of 18 who stand accused or are witnesses in criminal cases. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) commends The Star for this practice.

MMA however, notes with disappointment that just below this well-reported article is a story titled,“Centurion girl shoots brother then kills herself” (The Star, 18/08/2014 p. 2) which raises a red flag about unethical reporting on children and steals

The Star’s shine. The article details how a 14-year-old girl shot at her younger brother and thereafter fatally shot herself. According to the report, the younger brother did not sustain any injuries. The article went on to name the girl and in so doing indirectly identified her younger brother. From a legal standpoint, the child is both a witness and victim of a crime and should not have been identified as a result.

Additionally, having been a victim and witness of such a devastating incident, the boy is likely to be deeply distressed and traumatised. These reasons therefore required the journalist to exercise some privacy and sensitivity in reporting on this matter in order to minimise the risk of secondary trauma on the child.

We urge The Star to apply caution when reporting on children who are victims of a crime and consider the consequences of identifying them in the media.

MMA looks forward to stories that heed this call.

1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”
2. On a weekly basis MMA highlights instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”
3. Parkhurst Primary school participates in MMA’s Make Abuse Disappear Online Accountability Tool (MAD OAT) where learners aged between 12 and 14 are taught media literacy and media monitoring skills
4. Section 154 (3): No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of… a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.