Cape Argus compromises children’s safety
Following the amendment of Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act of 2021, the general rule when it comes to identifying children is that “no person shall before, during or at any stage after the conclusion of criminal proceedings, in any manner, including on any social media or electronic platform publish any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused, victim or witness who is or was under the age of 18-years-old at the time of the alleged commission of an offence”.
It is unfortunate and concerning that the media continue to identify children without any regard for the legal or ethical frameworks around reporting on children and, the potential for harm to these children. An example of an article that reports on a story involving children without minimising harm is one by Cape Argus titled,
“Man stabs girlfriend to death for ‘refusing to see his child’
The article which received a MAD from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) reports on a man who allegedly stabbed the mother to his child to death in an informal settlement near Mfuleni in Cape Town. According to the article, the woman’s children who include the child she shares with the suspect witnessed the incident. The article also reports that the man who had been “expelled from” the settlement for assaulting the woman numerous times, was still at large and that the children were being looked after by one of the community members. In the article, the deceased woman and a neighbour are identified – an action that indirectly identifies the children involved.
The amended Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act is clear on instances when the media can and cannot identify children. The children involved in the above story are witnesses to the crime and are potential witnesses are criminal proceedings. Therefore, Cape Argus flouted the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act by providing information which may reveal the identity of the children which in this case is the mother’s name.
The amended Section further goes on to provide grounds for which the media can reveal the identity of children in such situations. One of these grounds is when such information is necessary to locate the whereabouts of the child witness to obtain a statement from them, etc. The above article does not state whether revealing the identity of the deceased woman is for such a reason or for the other reasons in the provision.
The fact that the children witnessed the incident makes them potential witnesses at criminal proceedings. Additionally, the fact that the suspect is still at large should have made the journalist more cautious about revealing the children’s identity, directly or otherwise. Revealing this information potentially compromises the children’s safety as they might be harmed to be kept from participating in criminal proceedings, for an instance. There is also potential for harm such as victimisation, retribution or discrimination.
Cape Argus has also violated its own press code. The Independent Media Press Code states in Section 5.3, “Whenever the identity of a child is disclosed, whether pictorially or in print – 5.4. The statutory restrictions on the naming or identification of children shall be observed and adhered to.” Unfortunately, the “statutory restrictions” provided in Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act have not been “observed and adhered to”.
We urge Cape Argus and the media in general to always be cautious when reporting on children involved in stories on crime or abuse. Here, the media are called upon to report in a way that minimises harm to the children. The media are urged to always report in line with legal and ethical frameworks around reporting on children especially by applying Section 28 (2) of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution which provides for the child’s best interest principle.
MMA requests Cape Argus to kindly withdraw the deceased’s woman’s identity from the online article and to instead use a pseudonym in order to protect the children from harm, including potential harm. We also ask that Cape Argus provides an explanation to its audience as to why the decision to withdraw the identity was taken.
Written by Lister Namumba
Edited by Ntombi Kubeka
 MADs are given to media for irresponsibly reporting on children and compromising their safety