Particular care needs to be taken in coverage of children who are perpetrators of crime as children are protected by the law and should be protected by ethical codes within newsrooms. Daily Sun, on 6 June 2008, flouted both the law and good journalistic practice by picturing on the front page eight boys physically attacking two men (“Kids swoop on thugs”, p. 1).
Kids swoop on thugs
This story is one that Media Monitoring Project (MMP) is mad about because the boys, who are protected both as witnesses and perpetrators by the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 Section 154(3), are clearly visible on the front page of the largest selling newspaper in South Africa. Of the eight children involved, six of them have their faces clearly visible, making them immediately identifiable.
In cases like this, it is impossible to tell, when the story is printed, what the potential consequences of the featured image might be. It is possible, for instance, that the victims of the assault, or others who oppose the brutality, may seek revenge on the children involved. It seems from the story that the victims of this assault are already guilty of a possibly violent crime, so it is not inconceivable that they, or people they know, will seek revenge against the children.
The publication of this photograph, and the way in which the story was covered, is clearly without due regard to the interests of the children.
Children’s behaviour is often seen as a sign of the moral climate of a society. It is, for instance, far more shocking to people when a 9-year old commits a rape or murder than when it’s an adult. This story, and others like it, is far more likely to attract attention than similar stories featuring adults. It seems that the use of this image on the front page of the newspaper may appear to have purely mercenary motives, since it is more likely to sell newspapers than a similar picture with adults as the aggressors.
Like a story previously featured on the MAD OAT website, “Now it’s pupils’ justice” , this one fails to condemn the use of violence as a method of solving problems, and presents violence as an everyday experience for Black South Africans, regardless of age.
In the language used in the article (“The pupils…now become the teachers…”, caption (“No more crime around here! Schoolkids teach thugs a lesson”), and headline (“Pupil’s Justice”), the violent actions of the pupils are equated with justice and even condoned.
MMP would like to see the Daily Sun cover such stories a way that explicitly condemns violence and protect the rights of children.