Media Monitoring Africa (MMA)’s MAD of the week goes to The Post for potentially re-traumatising a child victim of sexual assault by interviewing her about the incident.
The article “Teen abused while caregiver took nap” published via IOL (18/02/2018) tells the story of a 14-year-old girl living with a disability who was allegedly raped in her home while her caregiver was sleeping.
While the The Post can be commended for not identifying the child in the article, it failed to protect the child’s rights in other respects.
In the article, the reporter interviewed the child and had her describe what had happened to her. The article even acknowledges that the reporter encountered a “traumatised teenager” and that “the girl declined to explain” what had happened after a certain point.
By doing this, the journalist failed to minimise harm and to promote the best interests of the child as enshrined in Section 28 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of South Africa.
Although a psychologist is accessed for comment it is not clear whether they were present during the interview.
MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media call for children who have experienced trauma to be interviewed in the presence of a counsellor/psychologist after they have received counselling and the expert has gauged whether they can talk about their ordeal or not. This is done to shield children in these circumstances from possible secondary trauma. Considering that the reporter also took comments from the child’s father, and law enforcement, interviewing the child it seems also added little if any additional value to the article.
Independent Media have their own press code and this article appears to breach two sections of it, they are:
- Section 4.3 PRIVACY – Where there is personal grief or shock, journalists and editors shall handle subjects with the necessary consideration including in the publication relating thereto.
- Section 7.5 VICTIMS OF CRIME – Victims of crime shall be treated with compassion, both when interviewed and in the publication.
Greater concern for the best interests of the child and following the above sections of their own code may have resulted in the journalist reconsidering the need to interview the child in this instance.
Another concern is the headline in this story which potentially minimises the incident to mere “abuse”, connoting that, perhaps the child was hit or shouted at, rather than more accurately stating the fact that she was raped. Headlines matter because they can not only determine how many people actually read any given article, but also influence the reader’s thinking. Headlines also frame the content beneath them and this one fails to emphasise and the nature of the topic being reported on.
While it is important that incidents like this are reported on to raise awareness around such serious matters, it is vitally important that this is always done with the best interests of the child as a primary concern.
MMA urges The Post and IOL to apply these principles when reporting on children and to only access children when it is demonstrably in the children’s best interests to do so.
We hope that future stories about children are approached in this manner.
By Amanda Rowen
 A MAD is given to the media for irresponsibly reporting on a child
 This principle states that “the child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”
 Konnikova, M, 2014, “How Headlines Change the Way We Think” The New Yorker, viewed 27 February 2018, from https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/headlines-change-way-think