For some, September was a month to make merry as the spring season bloomed across the country while for others, news particularly those reporting on children were a scary reflection of how media tends to deal insensitively with victims of and/or witnesses to crime. Such was the case with Sowetan and City Press’s reporting which warrants concern and a MAD to the two publications.
“Boy (10) lives to tell his abduction tale” (Sowetan, 05/09/2017, p.5) reports on a kidnapped 10-year-old from North West who describes the horror he experienced. He describes how the kidnapper… “placed a knife on my neck and told me not to scream and go with him.” The article claims that the boy was held captive for over a week and seemed “distant and traumatised.”
Another article by Sowetan, “Boy burnt for using granny’s bag” (06/09/2017, p.2) interviews a child who allegedly had hot water poured over his arm by his grandmother for “using her handbag to go with his outfit on Spring Day.” According to the child, he was then beaten with a broom by his mother and locked outside. “This [the wound] is painful and sometimes it has a terrible smell…I don’t want other kids making fun of me,” he is quoted saying.
The last article by City Press, “Our teachers want sex” (10/09/2017, p.8) reports on a 15-year-old girl and her fellow schoolmate, an 18-year-old girl, who laid charges of sexual abuse against two teachers at their school in the Northern Cape. City Press interviewed the children who recounted details of the alleged incidents. “He kissed me. He touched me. I stopped him. I told him that I want to go,” she is quoting saying amongst other claims of a similar nature.
In all three articles, the journalists neglect to place the best interests of the children involved before the reader’s interest in the stories therefore failing to minimise harm. By taking us through narratives in which children with a possible case of post-traumatic stress disorder – retell and relive the shocking incidents they survived, the journalists potentially subjected the children to secondary trauma.
Defined as “a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a … violent personal assault …”, post–traumatic stress disorder has serious implications, such as loss of concentration, nightmares, etc, on those affected.
Journalists should guard against exploiting the rights and stories of children, but rather try to protect and respect their dignity and privacy in every circumstance. Journalists should also avoid subjecting children to further trauma by making children recount their stories, especially in the absence of a trained counsellor as was seemingly done in the three articles. “Those closest to the child and best able to assess a child’s situation are to be consulted about the diverse ramifications, including potential political, social and cultural ramifications of any reportage,” MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media advise. Subjecting a child to further trauma lengthens their healing process.
We implore on Sowetan and City Press to always act in the best interests of children especially in reporting of this nature. We look forward to reading articles in both publications that protect children from harm, even potential harm.
By Motshabi Hoaeane
 MADs refer to articles where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage
 Anxiety and Depression Association of America (https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd)
 Media Monitoring Africa, Editorial guidelines (http://126.96.36.199/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/mma_editorial_guideline.pdf)