The article, “Boy imitates mom’s murder” (Cape Times, 04/02/2010, p. 6) is one to be mad about. The story talks about how a three-year-old boy witnessed his father shoot and kill his mother and two other men before hijacking three cars.
The article indirectly identified a child witness, through identifying his both his father and mother which clearly violates Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act where it states:
“No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18 years or of a witness at criminal proceeding who is under the age of 18 years.”
The name of the mother, father and uncle was published meaning that someone who knew the family could identify the witness. Since the child will testify against an alledged murderer, naming him could put his life in danger. It is evident that the toddler is in need of psychological help as he, reportedly, constantly imitated the terrifying ordeal that he was subjected to.
The same story was published in The Star newspaper (“Freed VIP officer kills wife” 21/01/2010, p. 1) however, it was told in a different manner. The child was neither linked to the crime, nor was he identified. This proves that a crime story can be told without linking a child witness to the incident.
The Cape Times is a part of the Independent Newspapers which has adopted Media Monitoring Africa’s (MMA) Editorial Guidelines and Principles for reporting on children in the media. It is consequently extremely disturbing to MMA that such a story, which clearly violates children’s rights and the law was published by this medium.
The story which appeared in The Star, which is also a part of the Independent group, carries the same byline as the Cape Times. This shows that the Cape Times’ editorial team might be unaware of the guidelines that their organisation has adopted.
Journalists need to be extremely cautious when reporting on crime stories, especially where children are involved, in order to respect the law and not put the child’s life in danger.