In their quest to inform the public, playing the watchdog role and seeking the truth; journalists should ensure that they go to great lengths to protect the identities of their sources1; particularly child sources. Even in cases where the purpose of the story is to create awareness about issues that impact children or society at large. In this case, the articles, “Pupils’ phuza shock!” (Daily Sun, 04/09/2012, p. 1 and 2) and “Dagga makes teens duller as adults” (The Star, 30/08/2012, p. 20) fell short of sufficiently protecting the identities of the teenagers photographed in their stories and as a result Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) awards both articles a MAD2.

“Pupils’ phuza shock!” reports on young teenagers who flocked to the annual “Vaal Beach Party”, some of them as young as 13. It went on to mention how many of them were heavily intoxicated, had passed out and were seen smoking without the fear of being caught. Several photographs of the children who were part of the festivities were published alongside the article. However, the newspaper merely put black strips over their eyes.

While we acknowledge Daily Sun’s efforts to hide the identities of these teenagers, we stress that that this is not sufficient to conceal their identities as they are still easily identifiable, more especially to people in the immediate environments like their communities. Moreover, the latest technology advancements like reverse image search engine make it an easier task to track and match original formats of images that have been altered or manipulated.

As a follow-up, Daily Sun republished one of the images from the afore-mentioned article under the headline, “Journalists at phuza party” (06/09/2012, p.2), apologising for mistaking two of their journalists for “older men” who were drinking with the teenagers at the party.  However, unlike its previous article, Daily Sun used a black square to cover the whole face of the teenager, which shows that there was potential to do more in protecting their identities in the previous piece.

The second article, “Dagga makes teens duller as adults” reports on how smoking dagga has adverse effects on adults in the long run. The article references a study which shows that there is “a marked drop in intelligence in adults who used dagga in their teens and continued for years afterwards.” A photograph of a pupil smoking at a high school in Limpopo accompanies the article.  Even though the picture was blurred, it is still easy to identify the pupil. This could expose the child to negative repercussions for being identified in the media in such a manner, including social ridicule, embarrassment and possible suspension or expulsion from school.

MMA commends both newspapers for publishing stories that aim to inform the public about the consequences of substance abuse for teenagers and making an effort to obscure the identities of the children concerned. We however feel that in future, they need to exercise extreme caution when showing images of children as they can be extremely powerful and have a significant impact on them.

1.A source is a person (or organization) who is directly or indirectly accessed ( quoted, photographed etc) in any news item
2.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”