There is no doubt that children face many challenges and the media always strive to identify and highlight these challenges in their reporting. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) welcomes these efforts and at the same time cautions the media to always ensure that when such opportunities to report on these challenges arise that they do not fall foul of the ethical principles for reporting on children and to ensure that the rights of the people involved especially those of children are respected and promoted. Media reports by Daily Sun and e-TV News fell short of these principles when they indirectly identified children who are potential witnesses at criminal proceedings, and for this reason were selected for a MAD.1
Daily Sun’s story “Kids locked up for 8 years!” (02/06/2014, pp.1 and 2) is about four children who were locked up by their parents in a hostel room for eight years because they feared for their safety. While an effort was made in the photograph accompanying the article to block out their faces, this good deed was undone by their failure to hide the identity of the father and the neighbour. Although there was a clear intention on the part of Daily Sun to protect the identities of the children, MMA is afraid that through naming the father and the neighbour, they made it possible for people to make out the identity of the child victims and most importantly breached the provisions of both the Criminal Procedure Act and the Press Code.
Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act warns against the direct and indirect identification of children who are accused of crime or witness to a criminal proceeding. It states that “No person shall publish 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 proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.” Furthermore, Section 8.3 of the Press Code states that “The press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime, unless a public interest is evident and it is in the best interests of the child.”
What is also unusual about the photograph that accompanies the article is that it appears to be staged. The photograph shows the three siblings with a chain that was allegedly used to tie up their elder brother. The chain appears to be placed on top of one of the siblings. It is not clear why the children were made to re-enact the incident. Asking the children to re-enact their traumatic experience so that a photographer can get it on camera is unethical and subjects them to further trauma.
The e-TV prime-time news story (03/06/2014) on the other hand reported on the murder of a taxi owner in full view of his children, relatives and friends. Similarly to Daily Sun, the children involved are potential witness at a criminal proceeding and therefore required protection as stipulated by law. However, in the e-TV news bulletin, the taxi owner and his sister are named, in so doing indirectly identifying the children who witnessed the crime and therefore breaching Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act. We acknowledge that e-TV news demonstrated a level of sensitivity in their reporting when they only showed an eye-shot of a child crying as well as making their decision of not showing the footage of the actual murder because it is too graphic to broadcast known to the viewers.
It is clear that attempts were made in both stories to protect the identities of the children involved but because of minor mistakes, all the efforts were undone.
In a similar case recently, Knysna-plett Herald, a local community newspaper from Knysna and Plettenberg Bay indirectly identified a child who was allegedly sexually assaulted by her step-grandfather by giving information that could lead to people acquainted with the family to easily identify her. The story titled “Bail for accused 69-year-old step-grandfather” (15/05/2014, p.6) provided details of the court case, as well as other details such as the name of the area and street where the child lived. MMA was requested by the mother of the victim to intervene in this matter. After MMA’s intervention, the newspaper then acknowledged their fault and apologised to the victim and her family for subjecting them to further trauma.
MMA would like to urge Daily Sun and e-TV News to ensure that children’s rights and best interests are prioritised in all their reporting and that attention is paid to minor details as these oversights often result in ethical and legal transgressions.
1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs↩