Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD to IOL for an article in which a child who was sexually abused was made to relive her traumatic experience through an interview.
“’Raped by dad and brother’” (IOL, 09/05/2017) reports on a nine-year-old girl from Cape Town who was allegedly raped by her brother and father. The child’s mother and stepfather, with whom she lives, claim that the child started having nightmares, panic attacks and became aggressive after a visit to her father’s house in July last year. The child was taken to a health centre where a doctor confirmed her parents’ suspicions of rape. In the article, the child is interviewed and provides details of how the abuse occurred.
While IOL took care to protect the identity of the child by not revealing her name or the identities of her family members and also by capturing only a silhouette of the child in a photograph accompanying the article, MMA is concerned about the decision to interview her. Protecting children in stories of this nature extends beyond concealing their identities in news reports and includes taking extra caution to sufficiently minimise harm to the child before a story is published or broadcast.
It is therefore important for journalists and editors to consider how having a child recount a traumatic encounter can subject him/her to further trauma as a result of having to relive the experience when telling the story. This includes ensuring that the child has received the necessary counselling and assessment by a professional such as a trauma counsellor before being interviewed and includes those instances where consent may have been provided by a parent/guardian to interview the child. Best practice also suggests that the counsellor is approached beforehand to assess whether the child is fit to speak about his/her abuse and is present during the interview to create a safe environment for him/her. In this instance, it appears IOL neglected to take these precautions and therefore subjected the child to secondary trauma.
Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media, formally endorsed by IOL’s mother body, the Independent Group, also advise journalists to minimise harm in their reporting and consider how: “In interviewing and reporting on children, special attention is to be paid … [to ensure that children are]…protected from harm and retribution, even potential harm and retribution.”
While it is important to highlight incidences of child abuse, we implore IOL and other media to exercise caution and put in place stringent measures to ensure that no child is subjected to further harm including the reliving of trauma. Interviewing children without adequate care can lengthen their healing process.
We hope to read more stories from IOL about ills facing children but reported in a manner that promotes their best interests.
By Lister Namumba-Rikhotso and Ayabulela Poro.
 A MAD is given to the media for irresponsibly reporting on a child