The article “‘I sleep with the house keys under my pillow’” (Sowetan, 10/04/2013, p.9) indirectly identifies a teen who is reportedly heavily addicted to drugs. The article therefore receives a MAD1from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for not having the best interests of the child in mind.
The mother of the alleged 17-year-old drug addict gave a break-down of what she, her family and particularly the boy have had to endure as a result of the drug addiction. She went through a full account of how drugs have changed her son’s life, and how he has been hospitalised and gone through rehabilitation – only to relapse again. She further explained that he is a different person and that when he has used drugs he becomes violent and smashes doors and windows. Emphasising her frustration and desperation, the mother is quoted saying “I even went as far as having him arrested…”
The article is seemingly an attempt to raise awareness on the issue of substance abuse and solicit help for the child. However, MMA is concerned that awareness is raised at the expense of the best interests of the child, who is indirectly identified through naming and publishing a photograph of his mother. Section 28 (2) of the South African Constitution clearly states that “a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”
Sowetan however failed to take into consideration this provision by overlooking the dire potential consequences of identifying him. Drug addicts are stigmatised and discriminated against by the society. Instead of dealing with drug addiction as a disease, the society tends to strictly criminalise drug addicts.2 The boy is thus likely to be further shunned and victimised by his friends and community.
There can be no question as to the need of the media to report these stories but the potential consequences such stories might warrant necessitates that extreme caution be exercised when reporting on them. Sowetan and other media are encouraged by MMA to raise awareness on important issues like drug addiction, but they are urged to adhere to the legal and ethical principles about reporting on children in the media.
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”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs” ↩
2. See http://www.ecdoh.gov.za/faqs.asp?cid=2↩