The article, “Boy,11,shot cousin,7,won’t be charged   (Daily dispatch,  04/10/2021, p.2) has been selected as a MAD[1] by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for  falling short of the ethical and legal principles of reporting on children. The story indirectly identifies the child involved thereby potentially subjecting him to harm.

The article is about an 11-year-old twin boy who shot dead his cousin. The child, along with his twin was playing with their cousin when the firearm he was “fiddling” with went off and killed the seven-year-old boy. In the article, his grandfather who owns the firearm is named thereby indirectly indentifying the child who shot his cousin. The deceased is also named. 

MMA is of the view that through naming the deceased and the grandfather who is charged with “unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition and failure to lock away a firearm in a prescribed safe”, it makes it possible for people to make out the identity of the child who shot the other. Therefore, Daily Dispatch breached the provisions of both the Criminal Procedure Act and the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media.

Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act warns against the direct and indirect identification of children who are accused of crime or who are witnesses at criminal proceedings.

The article reports that the child will not be facing any criminal charge but because he is a potential witness in his grandfather’s court case, the child should not have been identified indirectly or otherwise as this flouts the Criminal Procedure Act.

Furthermore, Section 8.1 of the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media[2] clearly states that the media shall, in the spirit of applying the best interests of the child, “Exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children.” The Section of the Code goes on to state, “If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest is evident.”

There is no public interest in knowing the identity of the child. Further, the article does not indicate whether fully informed consent was obtained to identify the child directly or indirectly. Even in instances where consent is obtained, MMA urges the media to perform their duty and act in the best interest of the child by not identifying the child when he might be subjected to harm, including potential harm. By identifying the child, Daily Dispatch has potentially subjected him to harm such as retribution. 

According to MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media“Special attention is to be paid to each child’s right to … be protected from harm and retribution, even potential harm and retribution.

MMA would like to urge Daily Dispatch to ensure that children’s rights and best interests are prioritised in all its reporting and to find better ways to tell the stories without compromising the safety and/or wellbeing of any child. We call on Daily Dispatch and other media to be extra cautious when reporting on children involved in crimes.

Written by Bantse Pelle

Edited by Lister Namumba

[1] MADs are given to media for irresponsibly reporting on children