Daily Sun’sI saw my teacher shot dead” (04/06/2015, p.g.1-2) has been selected as a MAD1 for failing to protect vulnerable children who witnessed a traumatic event. The story is about a teacher that was shot dead while teaching pupils, leaving one pupil dead and another wounded.

The most bizarre thing in this article is that the journalists interviewed what they described as “visibly traumatised pupils” who witnessed the event. While the children who witnessed the shooting serve as primary sources in the news story, the journalists needed to be mindful of the potential harm interviewing the “visibly traumatised” children might cause. An expert who works with vulnerable children who are victims or witnesses to a traumatising events Carol Bews of Child Welfare states that, “media should interview adults in the child’s life, but leave the child to recover and heal. Victims- even child victims – are repeatedly asked to tell their stories-this often results in distortion and has implications for the court cases that may follow, and questioning may compound the child’s sense of trauma.”

Other than interviewing the children, the journalists made a grave mistake by identifying some of the child witnesses. Some of the pupils who were identified in the story are victims of a crime and also potential witnesses to a criminal case and as required by the law2 they were not supposed to be identified. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) feels that the naming of the children in the article was totally unnecessary. The same story could have been reported without identifying the children; we are of the view that the “news value” would have remained the same.

It is unclear why the journalists did not take extra precautions to ensure that the children’s privacy is protected. Notably, it is also difficult to justify the decision to put a child in the public eye following such a traumatic incident.

Moreover, a picture and name of the deceased teacher’s daughter was published on the front page, it is not clear how old she is. But should the child be under the age of 18 this would clearly be a violation of her rights to privacy and this may put her and the rest of the family in danger.

Daily Sun as the “people’s paper” needs to consider the rights of the society’s most vulnerable people. We hope that in the future we will be seeing reporting that is sensitive to children in these kinds of tragedies. The Poynter Institute, says, the “golden rule” for journalists should be, “Do unto other people’s kids as you would have them do unto your kids.”

By Msizi Mzolo

1. MADs- Refers to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage
2. Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977: No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of eighteen years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of eighteen years: Provided that the presiding judge or judicial officer may authorize the publication of so much of such information as he may deem fit if the publication thereof would in his opinion be just and equitable and in the interest of any particular person.