Media is required to adhere to ethical guidelines when reporting on children especially in instances where the child is either a victim or witness in a legal proceeding. In most cases of good practice, the child victim’s identity is usually protected by merely concealing his or her identity and/or that of family members. Such practice, often times, needs to be extended beyond familial relations. This includes anyone whose identity could lead to that of the child being revealed as illustrated in the articles by The New Age, selected as this week’s GLAD.1
The first article, “Rape of daughters and chained teen, 14” (The New Age, 22/07/2013, p. 24) provides a good example of how this can be done. The story is about a court case involving a 65-year-old man accused of allegedly chaining up a teenage girl from his neighbourhood and raping her. Journalist, Montsho Matlala, protected the identity of the 14-year-old victim by withholding the name of the perpetrator. It is clearly stated in the article that, “His name is withheld because the 14-year-old alleged victim is his neighbour.”
This clearly goes beyond just protecting the identity of the victim as it goes an extra mile by also protecting the identity of anyone who can easily be linked to the victim or used to discern his/her identity. It is worth noting that The New Age showed consistency by treating another story published in the same week as the above mentioned. Titled “Pupils reveal lack of sex education” (25/07/2013, p. 6), the story reported on a project that revealed a lack of sex education among pupils in South African schools.
The project allowed pupils from different schools to send questions around sex education to a professional psychologist and social worker, who according to the article “cannot be named to protect the children.”
Two more articles published in the same week further indicate The New Age’s consistency in concealing identities of alleged child victims. “Rapist eludes justice” (26/07/2013, p. 1) reports on a suspected serial rapist who allegedly raped more than 30 underage girls, and eluded justice by committing suicide in a holding cell. The New Age protected the identity of a parent of one of the rape victims who was quoted in the article, so as to protect that of the alleged victim.
Lastly, “Rape case lead to campaign” (26/07/2013, p. 27) also protected the identity of a man accused of raping his two daughters 17 years ago. Although, the daughters are now aged 25 and 21 their identities were still protected as the alleged rape took place when the daughters were still children.
All of the four above mentioned articles fall in line with MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles on Reporting on Children in the Media2 which condone the protection of children’s identities especially when they are victims of abuse and witnesses in legal proceedings.
The articles also adhere to both the Criminal Procedure Act3 as well as the South African Press code which states in Section 8.3, “The press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime, unless a public interest is evident and it is in the best interests of the child.”
MMA commends The New Age and their journalists for going an extra mile to protect the identities of alleged child victims and showing consistency in doing so.
By Shaun Molokwane.
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. Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media available on https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/index.php/resources/entry/editorial_guidelines_and_principles_on_reporting_on_children_in_the_media/↩
3.Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 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.↩