Two articles by Sunday World, “Jozi Model takes [———-] to court”1 (05/07/2015, p.2) and “Ex-lover hunts tycoon” (05/07/2015, p.8) have been selected as MADs2 of the week due to the disregard they displayed for the privacy and dignity of the children involved in a maintenance dispute.
The articles are about two prominent men who have failed to honour their maintenance obligations.
Both articles indirectly identified the children who are caught in the middle of a maintenance dispute by naming their parents. The mothers have reportedly taken the matter to the court; therefore, by indirectly identifying the children, the articles contravened Section 36 of the Maintenance Act 99 of 98 which states: “No person shall publish in any manner whatsoever the name or address of any person under the age of 18 years who is or was involved in any proceedings at a maintenance enquiry or the name of his or her school or any other information likely to reveal the identity of that person.”
Clearly, by law, media are prohibited from revealing names either directly or indirectly of children involved in maintenance proceedings.
In addition, directly or indirectly identifying children caught in the middle of maintenance disputes constitutes gross invasions of their privacy and dignity. As stated in the Times Media Group’s editorial policy, the organization states that they “recognise that children’s rights to privacy and dignity deserve the highest degree of protection, and undertake to respect these rights in every situation.” However the coverage in the two articles by Sunday World, a publication of the Times Media Group, is contrary to this policy.
These kinds of stories have the potential to humiliate children now or in the future. While the aim might be to ‘name and shame’ the father and put pressure on them to pay maintenance, such stories serve to shame the child more, as they might grow up thinking that their fathers never loved them or turn towards blaming themselves for the dispute . Research in developmental psychology suggests that children have the capacity for feelings of shame and embarrassment as early as 3 or 4 years old and research has demonstrated that by the age of 10, youth can experience shame just by guessing or assuming that others are evaluating them negatively.3
While the default response might be that the mothers are the ones who approached the Sunday World with the story; it is the professional duty of the journalist to assess the impact such stories could have on the child and to make the best interests of the child a primary consideration.4
Children whose parents are involved in maintenance disputes have the right to have their personal issues kept away from the glare of publicity. The child shouldn’t have to suffer for his/her parents’ behavior and decisions. For this reason and many stated above, we urge Sunday World to prioritise the interests of children when reporting on maintenance disputes even when the story involves famous people.
By Musa Rikhotso
1. Media Monitoring Africa deliberately did this to hide the name of the father as it indirectly identifies the child.↩
2. MADs- Refers to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage↩
3. Bennett M, Gillingham K (1991) The role of self-focused attention in children’s attributions of social emotions to the self. The Journal of Genetic Psychology 152(3): 303–9.↩
4. Section 28 (2) of the Constitution says, “the best interests of the child are of paramount importance in all matters concerning the child”↩