The story is about a 12-year-old boy who was allegedly beaten by his teacher in class for failing to complete his schoolwork. The boy’s mother reveals in the story that the abuse has affected her son who has become a laughingstock to his peers in the community. The article also reports that the child has also been experiencing bullying as a result of the incident. All this, according to the story, has psychologically affected him to a point where he revealed in a letter that he would kill himself. A case of assault has been opened against the teacher with the police. The school has reportedly not taken any action against the teacher responsible.
Despite the child having been through a traumatic ordeal that affected him so badly that he wanted to take his own life, the journalist went on to interview him thereby subjecting the child to potential secondary trauma. . Making a child relieve his trauma through recounting their ordeal has the potential to further traumatize the child and potentially lengthen their healing process. In such instances, MMA always urges the media to only interview children about their trauma after those children have undergone thorough counseling and have healed enough to be able to recount their ordeals without the possibility of retraumatisation. In addition, we always urge the media to conduct the interview in the presence of a counselor to observe the state of the child before, during and after the interview. This story gives no indication that the child went through counselling prior to this interview.
By interviewing and quoting the child, Daily Sun went against Section 8.1 of the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media[ii] which states that, “The press shall therefore exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children under the age of 18. lf 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.
The fact that the child is at suicide risk should have made the journalist more sensitive and careful not to potentially subject the child to harm and put his life in danger.
Further, that a case of assault has been opened at the police station and an investigation underway, should have made the journalist avoid quoting the child as what has been quoted in the story might affect the case should it go to trial.
While we appreciate Daily Sun’s efforts of highlighting the current crisis in South Africa in which learners are forced into depression and/or suicide due to bullying at schools, we call on the publication to be cautious not to expose the children to harm, including potential harm
MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media [iii] advise the media to be extra careful when doing a story on a vulnerable child.
We urge journalists to continue reporting such issues to expose abuse at schools. However, the journalists must always be cautious and make sure that the children involved in the stories are protected.
[i] A MAD is given when a journalist reports on children in an irresponsible manner.