The Star’s, “Trafficked siblings back in SA,” (26/06/2015, p.2) by Lerato Mbangeni is a reflection of ethical standards that should be followed by journalists when reporting on child trafficking.. The article is not only written to highlight the issue of human trafficking, but it was written in a manner that does not infringe on the rights of the children involved.
The article is about two siblings who were reunited with their grandmother and brought back to South Africa after they were trafficked to Malawi.
The two siblings were abducted by a woman posing as a former teacher promising them further education in the UK. That never materialised as they were trafficked to Malawi via Mozambique, and exposed to harsh conditions of torture and abuse.
The journalist Lerato Mbangeni chose not to name the affected 14-year old boy, his grandmother and 20-year old sister. The effort of protecting the children’s identities can also be noted in the accompanying photograph which depicts the 14-year-old boy and his grandmother. The image shows the blurred face of the grandmother and a rear-end shot (hiding his face) of the boy hugging the MEC of Mpumalanga Social Development, Nomsa Mtsweni. The caption on the photograph also explains further that the “grandmother’s face has been blurred to protect the children’s identities.” This reporting is in line with the Press Council’s code 8.2 which encourages the press to “not identify children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime”.
Apart from adhering to ethical conduct, the story provides an informative graphic representation conducted by LexisNexis, a South African human trafficking awareness index. The Index shows that 82.7% of reported trafficking incidents were adults and 17.3% children. A pictograph of the African continent highlighting hotspot areas of human trafficking during 2014 is also shown to readers. A research by Media Monitoring Africa explains the critical role the media can play in highlighting human trafficking issues. “Human trafficking occurs in the shadows, where misconceptions dominate. It is in these circumstances that the media’s role to explain the issues is even more important. In fact, the media helps set the discussion agenda and create the boundaries within which debate takes place.”
It is in this regard that we commend The Star for their insightful and most importantly ethical coverage.
By Muzikayise Mike Maseko
In response to the commentary, this is what The Star’s journalist, Lerato Mbangeni had to say:
“I’d like to commend the photographer I was working with, Matthews Baloyi, for the hard work he put into ensuring that the children’s identity was protected while documenting the heart-warming reunion. The Department of Social Development also went to great lengths to make sure that all media involved did not violate the rights of the trafficked siblings. At The Star, we do whatever we can to make sure our reporting is ethical as well as true. So the foundation I picked up in our newsroom, together with the aforementioned factors, made certain that the outcome is a completely ethical story that protects the human rights of those involved.”