Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is concerned about a trend in the coverage of child victims in stories published by Daily Sun. Four articles by the newspaper have been selected for a MAD, for flouting the basic tenets of journalism in reporting on victims of child abuse.

The first article, “Chains of jealously” (20/08/2012, p. 5)  is about a man who chained his wife to her bed on suspicions that she was cheating and compelled his children, aged seven and 12, to skip school to look after her. The story indirectly indentified the children by naming and showing a picture of their mother.  Whilst Daily Sun should be commended for exposing   the plight of the mother and her children, MMA believes that this should have been done with caution by ensuring that the identities of the children were sufficiently protected.

Daily Sun has not only violated the rights of the children to privacy and dignity but the newspaper also failed to protect the identity of the children who are potential witnesses to the charges of kidnapping reportedly brought against their father. In this regard, a clause in the South African Press code which speaks to the need for “exceptional care and consideration [to] be exercised when reporting on matters where a child under the age of 18 is involved” was violated.

“Locked in a cell” (20/08/2012, p. 6) tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who was reportedly left traumatised after he and his father were arrested for allegedly assaulting a fellow pupil at school. The article reports that the child, who was a victim of bullying, stabbed a 14-year-old boy at school and was arrested together with his father in connection with assault allegations. In an effort to protect the suspected child’s identity, Daily Sun hid his face; however this effort was undone by naming both him and his father. In so doing, Daily Sun violated the South African Press code which stresses that, “The press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse or exploitation, been charged or convicted of a crime”.

“Heavy belt whipping!” (Daily Sun, 23/08/2012. p. 7) reports on six boys who were allegedly given 15 lashes each, by a man who accused them of stealing his pigeons. The boys, as well as their parents, were named and photographed. The images which were published alongside the article were taken with the children facing their backs to the camera, to “show the injuries from their beating”. Some of the boys were also accessed, exposing them to secondary trauma which can result from having to retell and consequently relive a traumatic experience.

Furthermore, not only are the boys victims of abuse but they are also witnesses to a crime and as such, necessitated the concealment of their identities as per Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act.1

“Pupils terrorised by K-way gang” (23/08/2012, p. 9) is not any different from the previously mentioned articles as children who are victims are once again, victim to careless reporting. The article in question reports on a gang of thugs whose reign of terror was imposed on groups of pupils in various schools.

In what seems to be a well-intentioned bid to highlight the seriousness of this issue, Daily Sunindirectly quoted parents of one of the victims. The concern with this is that the victim is named and so is the school she goes to. The same mistake was replicated when Daily Sun named another child victim who was quoted saying, “I didn’t go to school on Monday after members of the gang threatened to rape us.” MMA fears the children have been subjected to potential repercussions that may occur as a result of this kind of reporting. Since they have been identified and quoted in the article, the children run the risk of being victimised or terrorised again.

The ethical principles of journalism require journalists to always exercise extreme care when dealing with sensitive issues involving children.2This fundamental practice should have been a prerequisite and a priority when the paper decided to publish the above mentioned stories.

MMA understands the challenges and the ethical dilemmas journalists face when reporting on stories of such nature; however we hope that journalists will in future be more cautious. MMA further reminds not only Daily Sun, but all media practitioners that reporting on children should not endanger or cause them harm in anyway. Instead it should strive to always minimise harm.3

1.  Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act states :” No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18 years or of a witness at a criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years”. 

2.  Media Monitoring Africa. 2011. Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media.  p.4

3.  Black J., Steele B. and Barney J. (1995) Doing Ethics in Journalism: a handbook with case studies. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon p.17