Four articles published consecutively in Daily Sun are deserving of a MAD1 from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for violating the rights to privacy and dignity of two children burnt by electric wire cables. While MMA applauds the effort made by Daily Sun to create awareness about the dangers of live cables and ensure that amends were made to the families by the relevant authorities, the rights of the two children concerned were repeatedly violated in the coverage.
In the first article titled “Burned by live cable” (26/01/2012, p. 1 and 2), Daily Sun published a story on two children, aged 11 and ten, who suffered burns from live cables while playing. A very graphic image of the children shocked and dazed, crying with their clothes and skin burnt was published together with the article.
Apart from the image, the article gruesomely emphasised how “the children’s laughter turned to screams as a mighty blast from a live electric cable ripped off their clothing and burned their skin from their bodies!” The revealing details are at most insensitive and can potentially cause psychological trauma to the children, their relatives and readers.
The second article titled “Who let this happen?” (Daily Sun, 27/01/2012, pp. 1 and 2) is a follow up to the initial article. In their “bid to find out the truth of shocking cable blast”, Daily Sun visited the two boys in hospital. The journalist further questioned one of the victims amid mentioning that the boy was “speaking with difficulty from his hospital bed”. Like the previous article, Daily Sunpublished insensitive pictures of the two boys lying in their hospital beds and covered with bandages.
The articles, both front page stories, are very intrusive, and fail to respect the privacy and dignity of the children. The pictures could have been taken differently in order to protect the children’s identities. More so, the articles should have hidden the identities of the victims as they are very vulnerable and have undergone a very traumatic experience.
The third follow- up article from Daily Sun, “Blast boy dies in hospital!” (30/01/2012, p. 2) flouts the boys’ rights, by calling one of the boys “blast boy”. Section 9 of the South African Press Code stipulates that “Exceptional care and consideration must be exercised when reporting on matters where children under the age of 18 are involved. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she should not be photographed or identified unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents or a public interest is evident.” While the journalists might defend themselves under the public interest mandate as well as informed consent clause, the onus is on the journalist to always defend and support the best interests of the child.
“Officials step up to help blast boys’ families” (Daily Sun 07/02/2012, p. 10), a fourth- follow up article to the previous ones, exacerbated the violation of children’s rights by also name-calling the boys. In this article, it is mentioned that the Johannesburg Roads Agency and City Power officials plan to help the families of the two boys, referred to repeatedly as “blast boys”. Name calling in this tragic context is It is offensive, degrading and may consequently upset the child and the two families. By calling the children “blast boys”, the journalist further stigmatises them.
While some might argue that the stories are in the public interest and therefore necessary to make the public aware of the dangers of live cables, the children’s best interests are not prioritised in the articles. The best interests of the child should always take precedence before any other issue. This violation disregards the Children’s Act and Section 28(2) of South Africa’s constitution which states that: “The best interests of the child are paramount in all matters concerning the child.”
Thus, MMA requests Daily Sun to guard against the violation of children’s rights and adhere to the ethical and legal guidelines when reporting in matters involving children. The need to exercise a highest degree of caution is necessary especially when dealing with children who are sensitive and vulnerable.
1. Media Monitoring Africa highlights cases of good and best practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as feedback on cases where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through poor and irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”.↩