The article, “Grant stopped with no explanation” (15/11/2012,p. 12) gets a MAD from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for not observing ethical principles when reporting on a sensitive story involving a child and for possibly exposing the child to harm.
The piece tells the story of an HIV-positive mother, whose disability grant has been terminated without an explanation. Although this was the intention of the article, it goes on to include information which is irrelevant to the issue of disability grants mother.
To begin with, the article reveals the name of one of the woman’s child. By identifying a child who may be HIV-positive, the journalist places the child at risk of stigmatisation and being ostracised by the community. The media have the potential to compound the vulnerability of children affected by HIV/AIDS.1
The journalist further states that the mother lost her job in 2009 when she fell sick, suggesting that she may have been unfairly dismissed due to her HIV status. This is illegal2 and therefore warranted further investigation and clarification in the article.
The article then goes on to say, “By 2012 she was so ill that she was bleeding from her ears, but that didn’t stop her from having another child, that year.” Such a sentence insinuates two things – firstly, that if the mother is well enough to have children, she should therefore be well enough to work and not receive a disability grant, framing her as a fraud; and secondly, that the choice (or lack of) to have a child rests entirely on the mother, ignoring the role the father plays.
Excluding men and fathers from conversations and media reporting on women and women’s rights when it comes to child-bearing and rearing especially, perpetuates the negative stereotype that women are promiscuous and fall pregnant carelessly, leaving fathers and men assuming no responsibility.
The article in question, cannot suggest that the HIV-positive mother couldn’t “stop” herself from having another child, without asking the mother whether she had a choice in the first place. Did she fall pregnant because she had no access to contraception? Did she fall pregnant because the father of her child refused to use protection? Such questions need to be asked by journalists before they make statements that only serve to perpetuate the vilification of mothers.
The journalist repeats the same mistake by suggesting again, that although the disability grant has been stopped, the mother has in the meantime had another child, painting her as reckless and unable to control herself.
The Southern Africa Editor’s Forum (SAEF) Guiding Principles for Ethical Reporting on HIV and AIDS & Gender specifies: “Particular care should be taken in dealing with children. They experience the most extreme consequences of the epidemic, and their rights to privacy should be afforded even greater protection.”
MMA encourages Daily Sun to strive to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct in reporting on issues involving children, and more especially when reporting on children in the context of HIV and AIDS.