Two stories, “Raw bones fur lunch!” (Daily Sun, 12/11/2010, p. 3) and “Baba was op skoot toe motor hulle tref” (“Baby was on lap when motorcar hit them”) (Beeld, 10/11/2010 p. 1 & p. 5), are problematic because of their use of gratuitous images of children, depicting them in a manner that was clearly not in their best interests. Furthermore, the content of the stories did not give sufficient consideration to children’s rights.

The story in Daily Sun was about a butcher who throws away leftover bones, with some meat on them, in a public space in a poor community. These bones attract flies, and worryingly, poor members of the community, including children, still try to eat meat from the bones. Residents complain of the poor quality of meat and the adverse effect it has on those who eat from the bones – referred to by the journalist as “fly-blown charity”.

The article appears to focus on the strangeness of people’s behaviour rather than on their need. The journalist also failed to interrogate the Department of Health, about the unhygienic and presumably illegal dumping of carcasses, or even the butcher against whom the allegations are made.

Daily Sun also chose to publish an image of children eating the meat from the bones.  Guidelines for reporting on children, which have been recommended by the South African Editors Forum (SANEF) state that: “The dignity and rights of every child are to be respected in every circumstance.”

Identifying vulnerable children who are hungry enough to eat raw meat from bones left on the street fails to respect their rights to dignity and privacy. It is clearly not in their best interests to be indentified in this way, and it may result in these children being stigmatised or bullied.

The story in Beeld was a follow up on a story that was reported on the day before. The child was a victim of a car accident, and had suffered significant injuries in the process. According to the report, the baby was sitting on his mother’s lap in the front passenger seat of a car, while his father was driving. Then the car was hit by another car, and the baby was thrown from it, only to be picked up by a pedestrian in front of oncoming traffic.
The article fails to inform the public of the legal and safety requirements to seat young children to in a special baby seats in the car. The report also included conflicting information about the cause of the crash, which may impact on future legal proceedings.

It is clear that it was not in the child’s best interests, that he or his parents be identified. Gratuitous and gruesome photographs showing the extent of his injuries, fail to respect this child’s rights to dignity and privacy. Identifying this baby also fails to recognise that this is a child who must grow up and deal with the circumstances of this crash, and is not simply the dehumanised subject of a cautionary tale.

The stories would have been problematic without the pictures, but the addition of the pictures further violates the rights of these children. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) hopes that in the future these newspapers, who have shown an improvement in their reporting on children in the past few months, will more carefully consider their use of photographs, so that children’s rights are best served.