eNCA’s online article titled “Pupil repeatedly stabbed in face with scissors during row” (13/03/2014) has been selected for a MAD1 for not taking necessary precautions of protecting the identity of a child who is a victim and a witness to a crime. The article reported on a fight that broke out between two pupils at a school in Johannesburg. The fight allegedly resulted in one pupil stabbing her fellow pupil with a pair of scissors in the face.

According to the article, the victim of the incident, aged 15, allegedly sparked the altercation “following the results of a school contest in the afternoon outside the school premises.” The journalist named her in the article and ironically chose not to name the perpetrator because “she is a minor.” While an effort was made to protect the accused, it is alarming and unfortunate that the victim who is also a minor was not protected.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) sees no logic in failing to protect the victim who is probably more prone to further harm2 by the other party or those with a vested interest in the case by revealing her name and the school she goes to. Ethically, the journalist failed to minimise the harm that the victim might be subjected to as a result of her being identified.

Minors who are victims/witnesses deserve equal protection as those who are accused of a crime. The law also makes provision for both to be protected. According to Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977:

“No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of eighteen years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of eighteen years: Provided that the presiding judge or judicial officer may authorize the publication of so much of such information as he may deem fit if the publication thereof would in his opinion be just and equitable and in the interest of any particular person.”

Furthermore, it is not clear to MMA what charge is the accused minor facing. The caption of the photograph accompanying the article states that “a case of attempted murder” was opened after the incident. Further in the story the journalist interviewed a police officer who mentioned that “they are investigating a case of assault.”This begs the question of whether a case of attempted murder or a case of assault has been opened against the accused. If the case of assault was opened as stated by the police officer, the journalist should have determined if that was “assault with the attempt to do grievous bodily harm as opposed to common assault”. The use of the word “assault” without clarification or description belittles the seriousness nature of the crime and creates confusion in the mind of the reader.

MMA encourages eNCA to exercise extra care when reporting on children who are victims and witnesses to crime. Going forward, we hope to see coverage that abides by the law and protects and promotes children’s rights and best interests.

1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”.
2. Children who are involved in court proceedings either as witnesses or accused are susceptible to stigma and secondary trauma.