Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives Daily Voice a MAD for an article directly identifying a child who discovered her deceased mother’s body and is likely to be a witness at criminal proceedings.
The article, “Soccer boy finds mom dead on a field” (02/07/2021) reports on a mother of four who was found stabbed three times. According to the article, the body of the deceased was found by a group of boys playing soccer on the field and one of the children was the deceased’s 15-year-old son.
In the story, the journalist identifies the son to the deceased through name and picture. MMA finds identifying children who are involved in crime related stories is particularly problematic, unethical and is highly irresponsible reporting by journalists. By doing so, journalists and media put children at risk of being harmed, especially when they are potential witnesses at criminal proceedings. Other harm includes the risk of further trauma as a result of seeing their identity and photographs in the media as well as being victimised.
Further, identifying the child who is likely to be involved in criminal proceedings violates Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act which was ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018 to state, “No person shall publish in any manner whenever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”
In addition to flouting the Criminal Procedure Act, Daily Voice also violated their own Press Code in which they commit to protecting children. Section three of Independent Online’s Press Code states, “Whenever the identity of a child is disclosed, whether pictorially or in print – The statutory restrictions on the naming or identification of children shall be observed and adhered to. The interests of the privacy and the reputation of the child shall be considered and, where necessary, protected. The permission of the parent or guardian of any child shall be sought in all cases where the identity of the child is to be disclosed. Even if the parent or guardian consents to disclosure of the identity of a child, Independent Online shall exercise a cautious discretion, if it may be harmful to the child to publish the identity of the child.”
The article does not indicate whether fully informed consent was obtained from anyone to identify the child. MMA argues that even where consent is obtained, the media should exercise its duty of acting in the child’s best interest by protecting the child. This includes not identifying the child even where the parents or guardians have given permission when the children might be at risk of harm. The child’s best interest principle is enshrined in Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution.
Daily Voice also violated Section five of their Code which states, “When it is editorially necessary to publish a picture of a child, which is potentially harmful to such child, the identity of the child shall be obscured in such a manner that the child cannot be recognised. In this regard the face of the child shall be blurred or “pixelated” completely” .
Unfortunately, the photograph accompanying the article showing the deceased’s child and her grandmother was not edited to hide his identity. What is sadder is the fact that a photograph of a child with tears flowing down his cheeks is allowed to accompany the story. Daily Voice showing this image of a child who is clearly traumatised by his mother’s death indicates that the publication did not consider to respect the child’s privacy or the fact that seeing this image with his face like that in future, might retraumitise the child.
While we appreciate the effort by Daily Voice to report issues involving children in South Africa, we urge Daily Voice to always sufficiently protect the identities of children who are victims and/or witnesses, even potential witnesses at criminal proceedings. MMA requests Daily Voice to withdraw the identities of the child, his deceased mother’s and grandmother’s and rather use pseudonyms. We also request that the photograph be removed from the article or be pixelated or blurred and that an explanation be given to readers as to why the decision to withdraw the identities was taken.
We look forward to seeing more responsible reporting from the publication in future.
Written by Musa Rikhotso
Edited by Lister Namumba
 MADs refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage
While the following email exchange took place between MMA and Daily Voice, the child’s identity still remains revealed in the article online.
This is just to bring your attention to the commentary below that we wrote about the article reporting a deceased mother of four whose body was discovered by her 15-year-old son who was in the company of his friends. We really would love to engage constructively with you over this and ultimately have the child’s identity withdrawn from the article online. We fear the more the child’s identity is left revealed, the more the potential for harm to this child who is a potential witness at criminal proceedings as the person that found the body.
We received a phone call from someone from your publication who unfortunately refused to give their name. One of the things that came out of the phone call was that the caller felt that MMA errored in stating that the child was a “witness to the crime”. We would like to state that we did not, as you can see from our commentary, state that the child was a witness to the crime but that the child was a potential witness at criminal proceedings by virtue of him being the one that discovered the body. We invite you to have a look at our commentary and kindly write back to us with a feedback while at the same time withdrawing the identity of the child (name, picture and other information that might lead to his identification) from the article.
I am not sure if my emails were forwarded to you as the Editor of Daily Voice but i thought i should write in anyway in case they were not.
I am writing to you from Media Monitoring Africa to bring to your attention a commentary we wrote about an article reporting of a deceased mother of four whose body was discovered by her 15-year-old son and his friends. We raised some concerns about the fact that this child, who is a potential witness at criminal proceedings (as one of the people who discovered the body) was identified directly and indirectly. All our efforts to engage with Daily Voice via phone or email have proved futile and i am really hoping you can have a look at our commentary below and engage with us on this. While we want to engage constructively with you, we would also love for the child’s identity to be withdrawn from the article as the more it stays revealed, the more the potential for harm to this child, as mentioned in detail in our commentary.
Thank you for reaching out. The purpose of your email was not clear. Are you a community worker, acting on behalf of the family, or merely an external observer?
Thank you also for the offer of training and resources. We may consider your products/services at a later stage.
Thank you for responding to my email. Allow me to give you a brief introduction to Media Monitoring Africa. We are a not-for-profit organisation that implements various media strategies to advocate for change using technology, social media and data tools. Among our programs is the monitoring of media’s coverage of various issues such as elections, children’s rights and issues facing them, gender, migration, hate speech etc and on various groups of people like children, women, migrants etc.
Our media monitoring of children specifically looks at how much and how the South African media reports on and portrays children as well as whether the children speak in this coverage. We also monitor for the adherence or violation, whatever the case may be, to legal and ethical frameworks surrounding reporting on children. This monitoring is in two parts, the yearly monitoring and the everyday monitoring. Find our latest yearly monitoring report here.
Our everyday monitoring entails us to manually go through every article on children from a wide range of media outlets and Daily Voice is one of them. Whenever an article is identified, it is then brought to our staff meeting where the whole group weighs in on it in terms of how it was reported. Where we feel and agree that the article was well reported, we write a commentary and award that media and journalist a GLAD. Where we feel and agree that the article could have been reported better, we write a commentary and give that media and journalist a MAD. In the MAD commentaries, we raise concerns and provide tips on how the journalist can better report such stories in future. Where children are potentially exposed to harm, including potential harm through the actions of the journalist, actions such as the revealing of identities, we request for that media to withdraw the child’s identity and in place use pseudonyms. We do all this in order to improve the coverage of children in media. Click here to learn more about our MADs and GLADs process.
Our work just doesn’t see us commending media or raising concerns, we also equip media with skills and resources to better their coverage on children. So thank you for your interest in our training and resources. Let me know whenever you are ready for this training. If you like, we can set up a virtual 2 to 3 hour training in the coming weeks. I would also like to mention that we are currently accepting applications to a University of Witswatersrand’s accredited course on reporting on children. Scolarships are available for this course. To learn more about the course, kindly click here. To apply, please click here. You can also just get in touch with me or the course coordinator, Taryn Hinton Lee on firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope i have responded to your question about why we wrote the commentary. If you need anything further, kindly let me know.
I do look forward to hearing from you and also to seeing the withdrawal of the child’s identity from the article in order to minimise harm.
We have not heard from you and unfortunately, the article still appears as is. Are you going to withdraw the child’s identity? Or have you made a decision not to? We really would love to know.