There is no doubt that one of the reasons the Daily Sun has a higher circulation in South Africa is because it speaks to issues affecting ‘ordinary’ people.1 However, the photograph accompanying the article “Pay my poor boy! No support for son in her lonely struggle” (Daily Sun, 24/01/2012, p.4) may have served to stereotype the child or violate his right to dignity. Hence, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) selected it for a Mad.2
The article is about a mother whose 12-year-old son suffered brain damage as a result of medical negligence at a state hospital in South Africa’s Gauteng province. Subsequently, the Johannesburg High Court ordered the Gauteng local government to pay the family nine million South African rands in damages in February of 2011. But, a year later, the local government had not paid the damages.
It is commendable that the Daily Sun told the story and afforded the mother an opportunity to express her disappointment. However, the photograph accompanying the article may not have been in the best interests of the child.
The photograph shows the child leaning on his mother’s shoulder with his eyes and mouth wide open. Such a depiction may serve to entrench the stereotype that children who suffer from brain damage are incapable of doing anything and rely on other people for help. Yet, the old adage goes; “disability does not mean inability.”
Although the child in the photograph is indeed disabled, the Daily Sun could have represented him in a better light as the Sowetan article, “Hospitals of ‘no return’: Like the disabled babies, Batho Pele suffered from lack of oxygen” (01/02/2012, p.15) did.
The article reported on the same issue but in more detail and revealed how it was not an isolated case as there were many other cases of that nature. It also carried an image of a woman and a child but the image was dark enough that you could not recognise the child.
It is essential that the media hold government accountable and assist citizens with gaining knowledge of their rights, treatment and mechanisms for engaging with the health system to improve delivery and access. However, when choosing visuals to accompany such stories, the media should consider the best interests of the children involved.
The rights of children in relation to the media are protected by the South African Constitution,3 the International Convention on the Rights of the Child4 (which South Africa has ratified), and the Children’s Act5 among other codes and guidelines on how to report on children.
MMA therefore encourages the media to consult these legislations and codes in order to report better on children.
1. See the Audit Bureau of Circulation of South Africa figures presented on 15 November 2011. Available athttp://www.abc.org.za/Notices.aspx/Details/16↩
2. As part of their efforts to support human rights in the media, MMA identifies items which violate or uphold the rights of children on a weekly basis. A ‘Mad’ reflects that this story was the worst of those stories published/broadcasted by the media in that week.↩
3. Available at http://www.info.gov.za/documents/constitution/1996/a108-96.pdf↩
4. Available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm↩
5.Available at http://www.justice.gov.za/legislation/acts/2005-038%20childrensact.pdf↩