On 8 September 2009 The Star published a front page story, “Teen shot dead by cops” (08/09/09, p. 1) about a boy who was allegedly shot dead by Metro police. There was a series of follow up stories, “Metro cops face murder probe after teen shot dead” (09/09/09, p. 6), “Community mourn shot teenager” (11/09/09, p. 2), and “Anger at funeral of teen killed by cops” (14/09/09, p.3). WhileThe Star is to be commended for its investigative reporting into the alleged shooting and following up on the story, they were nominated for a MAD OAT Mad for identifying a witness that was reportedly a child. In doing so they failed to take into account the best interests of the child and may have contravened the Criminal Procedure Act.
In the breaking story, “Teen shot dead by cops” (The Star, 08/09/09, p. 1), The Star published the name and age of the victim’s brother, who was identified in the story as 17 years old, and who appeared to have been accessed as a witness to what happened.
If the newspaper believed that the teenager was 17, the decision to name and provide a photograph of the witness would not be in the best interest of the teenager, as he might face further intimidation and victimisation from the alleged shooters.
More significantly, as a 17-year old witness to a crime, providing details that reveal his identity in the media contravenes Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act. This states: “No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18 years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”
MMA interprets criminal proceedings to start “the moment it is clear that a crime involving a child has been committed, or where a charge has been laid” (MMP & IAJ 2005: 6). According to the article “Teen shot dead by Cops”, charges had been laid against the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department, and in the follow up article, “Metro cops face murder probe after teen shot dead”, it is reported that metro police officers are suspects in a murder and attempted murder investigation.
While the second follow up story, “Community mourn shot teenager” (11/09/09, p. 2) was purely about the mood at the memorial service, the third follow up story, “Anger at funeral of teen killed by cops” (14/09/09, p. 3), mentions that the brother is 18 years old.
MMA would like to acknowledge that there is a possibility that the newspaper made a mistake regarding the age of the teenager. If the teenager is 18, then the newspaper does not have the same legal and ethical responsibilities that they would were he a child. However, it is important to note that whether he is in fact 18 or under, if there was a reasonable possibility that he may have been under 18, the newspaper should have concealed his identity as a witness to a crime.
It is vital that the media exercise caution when there is the slightest chance that they are dealing with children who have witnessed a crime, by not giving away any details that might identify who they are. This will ensures that their security is not further compromised in any way and that any legal requirements are met.
- Media Monitoring Project (MMP) and Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ). 2005. A Resource Kit for Journalists: Children’s Media Mentoring Project. MMP and IAJ: Johannesburg.
NB. This commentary was sent to The Star for a response. No formal response was received, but it has been verified by The Star that the brother of the 15-year old allegedly shot by police was 17 years old at the time of the first article, and had subsequently turned 18 years old, when the other articles were written. As he is now 18 years old, MMA has not concealed his identity in The Stararticles.