Annually Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) looks at the articles published in various newspapers on children and how the media chooses to report on the beginning of the school year.

Two articles published by Sowetan as part of their “back to school” coverage shocked MMA. The manner in which they clearly failed to consider and uphold the best interests of the children involved earned the newspaper its second MAD of 2011.The newspaper chose to identify boys who were drinking on their way to school, and to identify girls at a school where an MEC accused pupils of spending too much time on their appearance and not on their studies.

The photographs that were published alongside the front page articles “Booze High” and “Booze before class” (Sowetan, 13/01/2011, pg 1 & 2) showed the faces of school boys who were drinking on their way to school. The article also identified the schools that the three boys attend. Issues like underage drinking are of course newsworthy; however the identities of these children should have been protected for both legal and ethical reasons,

Underage drinking is a crime. Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act clearly states that “no person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18.”

Yet while the print version of the newspaper failed in its obligation to protect the identities of these children, the online version of the same article made some effort to meet that obligation. It covered their eyes, however MMA maintains that placing black strips over the eyes may not be sufficient to fully hide the boy’s identities and that their whole faces should have been blocked out.

Nevertheless that some effort was made by Sowetan online to protect the children’s identities, and not by the printed newspaper suggests either a disconnect between the editorial teams, or thatSowetan realised its error.

Another disturbing article, “Hairdos fail Matrics” (Sowetan, 13/01/2011, pg 8) deals with the Limpopo MEC for Health and Education visiting learners at a school (which is named)  that had the lowest Matric pass rate in the area and where a teacher got a pupil pregnant last year. MEC Miriam Segabutla reportedly told the girls at the school that “the time they spent titivating themselves in front of the mirror before they come to school could be best used to attend morning classes” and that they should “refrain from dating senior members of the community.”

The first line of the article also stated that “Hairdos and make-up negatively contributed to the dismal performance of female matriculants last year”. The suggestions being made by the MEC and supported in the tone of this article are very problematic. Dressing in a particular way, wearing make-up or a having a particular hairstyle does not mean that a child doesn’t work hard, it should not preclude them from accessing a good education and certainly it does not excuse statutory rape by a person in authority, like a teacher.

The ideas put forward by the MEC were not challenged in the article, and more worrying still, a photograph of three female pupils from the school accompanied the article. These students were essentially labelled as being among those accused of “wasting time in an effort to look attractive…  instead of concentrating on their schoolwork.”  This is neither fair, nor in these girls’ best interests.

Interestingly enough, this article does not mention anything about the male students, how they dress or their pass rate. The gender bias against girls is unfair and inappropriate

Section 28 of the South African Constitution it states:

“A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the

This is a right that trumps all others. MMA would like to remind reporters that a child’s identity should only be revealed when it is in their best interests to do so, and we urge Sowetan to make 2011 a year for best practice in its reporting on children,