Callous reporting puts children in danger

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD[1] to two news articles by Herald LIVE and Sunday Times for publishing articles that reveal the identity of children who have been victims of and witnesses to crime and abuse thereby placing them in potential harm’s way.

Shot Helenvale toddler ‘doing well’ in hospital” (Herald LIVE, 04/04/2019) reports on a three-year-old boy from Helenvale, Port Elizabeth who was caught in a crossfire of an alleged gang-related shooting. The article recounts how the child, whilst spending time with his father in their yard, was hit in the stomach by a stray bullet. According to the article, the child was later rushed to hospital and an arrest of a 23-year-old man in connection to the shooting was made. The article reports that the suspect would appear before the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s court.

MMA notes with concern that the Herald Live journalist in this instance gives the full details of the child in terms of his name, that of his grandmother and the street name where their home is located. The journalist further goes on to include a clearly identifiable picture of the child to seemingly bolster the story. This is concerning because the child, being a potential witness at criminal proceedings, has been subjected to potential harm as people might harm him to keep him from testifying etc.

The article titled, “‘School bully was a teacher’ but officials slow to react” (Sunday Times, 17/03/2019, p.6) details the story of a 9-year-old school child in the Eastern Cape who had to miss school for 18 months due to trauma, after she had allegedly been a victim of physical and emotional abuse from her class teacher. The story also reports on how the child’s mother tried all avenues available to her to escalate the matter to a point where she had to approach the courts for a protection order against the teacher. According to the article, the animosity from the teacher to the child stems from a rift between herself and the child’s parent, who previously had been a leader of the school’s governing body.

This journalist, while rightfully concealing the name and face of the 9-year-old school child even though the reason for this is not given, unfortunately goes on to reveal explicit details that could be used to easily identify the child. These include the names of her mother and her school. MMA frowns upon identifying children directly or otherwise and by revealing the name of the child’s mother, the journalist has indirectly identified the child. This is in contrast to the actions taken by the same journalist to not identify the child by not revealing her name and having the mother and the child face away from the camera, in front of what seems to be their home in a photograph that accompanies the article.

Identifying this child potentially exposes her to further harm such as victimisation, retribution etc.

While it is of paramount importance that our journalists go out of their way to find and report on critical issues such as crime and abuse, especially those involving children, it is however concerning that this coverage, such as the one by Herald LIVE and Sunday Times does not adhere to ethical guidelines and considerations of reporting on children. Both journalists should have taken into account Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act, which now states as ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal, “No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”

Furthermore, little consideration was given to child rights in these two stories resulting in the flouting of Section 8.1.1 of the of the Code of Conduct for South African Print and Online Media,[2] which, in the spirit of Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights, stipulates, “[the media shall] exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest is evident.”

Neither of the articles state whether fully informed consent to identify the children directly or indirectly was obtained from the children’s parents/guardians. Additionally, a public interest to the stories is also not evident.

As MMA, while we urge journalists to continue reporting on children-related issues, especially those that are of importance to the wellbeing of children, we also ask them to exercise extreme caution, particularly when the reporting has the potential to put children in any danger or cause further harm.

We also kindly implore that Herald LIVE immediately takedown the child’s photograph, his name as well as that of his grandparent from their website, and as an alternative, use pseudonyms to refer to them in the article. This should be accompanied by an explanation to inform the readership as to why this has been done.

We urge both Herald LIVE and Sunday Times to strengthen their editorial practices and desist from further publishing information that can potentially be of harm to children or put their livelihoods in jeopardy. 


By Azola Dayile & Bantse Pelle

[1] A MAD is given to journalists for irresponsibly reporting on children and compromising their safety