Media Monitoring Africa nominates The Star for a MAD OAT glad award for its two articles “Drastic action on baby milk” (13/05/09, p. 3) and “Under spending robs thousands of children of vaccinations” (12/05/09, p. 5) by Louise Flanagan. The media coverage reveals to the public how government spending can impact negatively on children, and holds the government to account in its responsibilities and commitments.
“Underspending robs thousands of children of vaccinations” reports on how government has apparently failed to deliver on its stated commitments to roll out vaccinations for children against rotavirus diarrhea and pneumococcal disease. Despite being given an allocated budget to do so,The Star reports how “at least 40,000 more children could have been vaccinated….if health officials had spent their budget”.
“Drastic action on baby milk” reports on how Health Department officials “rushed” to pay baby milk supplier Nestle after Nestle were allegedly owed about R20 million by some provincial governments.
The Guidelines of the International Federation of Journalists (1998) state:
“Media organisations should regard the violation of the rights of children and issues relating to children’s safety, privacy, security, education, health and social welfare and all forms of exploitation as important questions for investigation and public debate…” 1
Both articles take government spending on health provision affecting children as an important issue for investigation.
They also demonstrate a rare degree of investigation through accessing a range of key sources, in an attempt to uncover what the situation is and who is responsible.
For example, in “Drastic action on baby milk”, Flanagan tried to get comment from each Provincial Health Department; includes responses from 3 of these, and was unable to get responses from others. She accesses a non-governmental organisation trying to get milk to clinics experiencing shortages, the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, as well as Nestle and the National Health Department. In “Under spending robs thousands of children of vaccinations” Flanagan accesses health officials, then Minister of Health, the National Treasury and the SA Vaccination and Immunisation Centre.
In “Under spending robs thousands of children of vaccinations”, Flanagan took the initiative to calculate how many more children could have been vaccinated with the amount of money unspent by the health department.
According to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of South Africa, every child has the right to basic health care2.
Both articles effectively hold the government to account in its responsibilities towards providing health care for children. They may help pressure the government, in the one case, to use funds more effectively to vaccinate children and in the other case (as may well have happened) to ensure timely payment of baby milks suppliers.
Although both articles are highly commendable, they could have been further improved by mention of children’s rights to health care, as specified in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of South Africa.
The article “Drastic action on baby milk” could also have put the story in the context of relevant health policy and legislation concerning HIV affected children. For example, it could have explained that infants who are born HIV negative who have HIV-positive mothers have the right to receive free baby milk formula from the government provided that the mother is enrolled in the Prevention of Mother- to-Child Transmission (PMCT) programme. As Aids Buzz explains,
“Mothers choosing to formula feed will get free milk powder for six months. They will get two tins of milk powder on discharge and will then get eight tins per month, which they will need to collect from the local baby clinic.” (Aids Buzz Website3)
Providing such information would highlight the particular impact delays in government payments may have on children affected by HIV, and would serve to promote children’s rights as well as government’s responsibilities.
Louise Flanagan and The Star did exceptionally well reporting on, and taking an investigative approach, to these issues, which have a deep and direct impact on children’s health. We look forward to more investigative reporting which focuses on children.
1 International Federation of Journalists. 1998. Children’s Rights and Media: Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Issues Involving Children. Adopted in Recife, Brazil, May 2nd 1998. Also in UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project. 2003. UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project. 2003. All sides of the story. Reporting on children: A journalist’s handbook, p. 67.