Children’s opinions matter on issues which involve them. It is disheartening to come across media stories about children in which the children are not interviewed to get their opinion on issues that affect them. For this reason, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has selected two articles published by Daily Sun and The Saturday Star as Missed Opportunities.
The first article with the headline, “Gatvol parents, pupils want principal gone” (Daily Sun, 11/08/2021) reports about the protest by both parents and pupils which took place outside Sinavanda Technical High School in Durban. Parents and pupils accused the principal of mismanagement of school funds and favouritism among staff members which causes divisions among teachers. The protesters also demand immediate removal of the principal from the school.
The coverage of this story unfortunately came short of being a great story because it does not have the children’s voices. This, despite the fact that the matter greatly affects the children as teaching stalled at the school. Further, the headline of the story has children in it but the journalist still saw no need to include their voices to the story. Other than being present in the headline, the school children are also present in the accompanying photograph but still, only parents and officials are interviewed. All in all, the coverage of this issue has portrayed children as passive victims in this matter despite them being actively part of the protests calling for better school management.
The second story, “Boy, 7, writes book to honour father” (The Saturday Star, 14/08/2021) is about a seven-year-old boy, Mathew English from Western Cape who wrote a book about the huge impact his late father had on his life. The article reports that the child hopes to inspire other children to read.
This is a great story to report as the book is likely to inspire a lot of children to read and even write books telling other children about their life experiences. The mother has all the good things to say about the child in the article but sadly, the child’s voice which would have added more inspiration for child readers and writers, is missing.
It is unfortunate that both these articles about children do not have the children’s voices in them thus violating the children’s right to express their opinions as stated in The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). Article 7 of the Charter states, “Every child who is capable of communicating his or her own views shall be assured the rights to express his or her opinions freely in all matters and to disseminate his or her opinions subject to such restrictions as are prescribed by laws.” South Africa ratified the ACRWC in 2000.
Apart from African Charter, MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media encourage journalists to include children’s views on matters that affect them as children have the right to have their views heard.
MMA encourages journalists to interview children and give them a voice when writing about them where it is in the children’s best interests to do so. The above articles would have gone a long way in empowering children had the children involved been interviewed.
Written by Ntsako Manganyi
Edited by Lister Namumba
 A missed opportunity is a story in which, for instance, children should have been accessed but are not.
The following engagement took place between MMA and Weekend Argus;
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
The Weekend Argus Saturday newspaper is mindful of our responsibility to protect the interest of children at all times. The article, entitled Boy, 7, writes book to honour father, which was published in the Weekend Argus Saturday and our sister title, The Saturday Star, had in itself reflected the voice of the child. We approached Matthew’s mother, Alicia English, for comment as she is his primary caregiver and has deciding discretion on whether to allow him to speak to the media.
We are also acutely aware of exposing children to secondary trauma and in this case, speaking to a complete stranger about the loss of his father.This was a good news story despite the unfortunate circumstance Matthew was faced with at a young age. We salute Matthew for being brave, writing his story and having his debut book published.
Thank you for getting back to us on this. We appreciate and understand your reasons for not interviewing this child. Indeed, it would be harmful for the child to be exposed to secondary trauma through having to retell the story of his father’s death. Thank you for that consideration. What would have helped in this instance would have been to include a one-liner in the story about the reason for not speaking to the child. If that had been done, then MMA would have selected the article as a GLAD immediately.
However, thank you for not speaking to the child and for explaining it to us. We will now upload the commentary with the feedback.