Children are abused on a daily basis1 and sadly, it is often their parents, guardians, and families who subject them to the abuse. What is even sadder is that the impact of their abuse is sometimes heightened by the media coverage they receive. The media has a set guideline and code of ethics when it comes to reporting on children, but that code is not always followed. Sometimes, the identities of those children they report on are splashed across the media, adding to that child’s humiliation and trauma. In some cases, these children are witnesses to a violent crime, most of the time against them, and releasing who they are only jeopardises their safety and puts them at further risk.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) would like to applaud the City Press, “Girl who paid the price for dad’s debt”(11/01/2015, p. 11) and Sunday World, “Man busts government official sleeping with wife” (11/01/2015, p.2), for not revealing the identities of the children involved, directly and indirectly, in sensitive matters.

The first article, “Girl who paid price for dad’s debt” (City Press, 11/01/2015, p.11) tells us how a Limpopo community came together to rescue a four-year-old girl who had been kidnapped in order to settle her father’s debt with a business associate. The girl, who turned five during her horrific ordeal, was taken over the border to Zimbabwe and was held hostage for seven months because her parents could not pay a R1500 debt. Neighbours and friends, after failing to get the police involved, hired an illegal immigrant turned security guard to bring the girl back.

Sizwe Sama Yende, the journalist behind the article, was very careful to leave out the names of the girl, her siblings and parents, choosing to use pseudo-names to protect the child from having her right to privacy violated. Also, in an act of good taste, Yende kept the heroic security guard’s real name from the story as well; portraying him in a way that made sure people understood his sacrifice. Yende should be commended for the tact he showed in his article along with his compliance with MMA’s Editorial Guidelines for Reporting on Children in the Media. The efforts to protect the identity of the child are also evident in the photographs accompanying the article where the child is in no way identifiable.

Not only is the article a good example of best practice when reporting on children who have been abused, it also significantly illustrates how a community could come together to solve a serious problem and, ultimately, a community’s responsibility towards child abuse. This article subtly encourages a strong and positive idea of ‘Community Unity’ in tackling matters that affect children. He also touches on parental irresponsibility in the headline of his story, calling attention to the fact that children tend to pay for their parents’ mistakes.

In Sunday World’s “Man busts government official sleeping with wife,”(11/01/2014, p.2) we read about a provincial HoD in Mpumalanga who was allegedly caught with his pants down when one of his junior managers found him sleeping with his wife. The journalist, Aubrey Mothombeni , makes it known to the reader that while “the husband and his wife are known to Sunday World, they cannot be named to protect the identity of their children”. His decision to keep names of the parties involved out shows just how serious he is about protecting the innocent parties associated to the people in this story and, most importantly, his awareness of the greater care needed when reporting on children.  He has also emphasised the importance of protecting these children from the humiliation of being associated with such a scandalous story when they are already dealing with the trauma of divorcing parents. Furthermore, by letting the public know about his reasons for withholding the name, the journalist provides valuable lessons to the public on how children in stories such as this one need adequate protection.

When a child is caught up in something they cannot control, where they are abused or subjected to immense amounts of trauma, it is absolutely imperative that journalists follow their code of ethics and protect those children who have already been through enough. Children have the right to privacy, and to be protected, and it is in their best interests that their identities are not disclosed, especially in stories such as these. The two journalists, Sizwe Sama Yende and Aubrey Mothombeni, have done so to the best of their ability, and, although it is their professional obligation to protect the children they are reporting on, we commend them for it and encourage them to follow this good practice with their future stories.

Written by Cheyenne Fourie

1. 2012/2013 crime statistics report. South African Police Service. 2013.