Informal settlements usually bear the brunt of poor service delivery. People live in dire conditions and children are mostly exposed to all sort of dangers when playing. Dangers which may lead to injuries or worse deaths. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives GroundUp a MAD for failing to protect the identity of children who witnessed their brother being electrocuted.
The article titled “Tension high in informal settlement after child is electrocuted” (GroundUp, 19/03/2020) reports about a community in Riemvasmaak informal settlement in Bethelsdorp, Port Elizabeth that is planning on a protest against living conditions. This was after a nine-year-old child was electrocuted while playing ball with his little brothers.
While this article touches on critical issues faced by this community, the journalist failed to make efforts to protect the identities of the siblings of the deceased child, who were present when their older brother was electrocuted. This is a traumatic incident for both the parents and siblings, yet again the journalist continued with naming and attaching an image of the whole family.
According to the Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media, in order to minimise harm when writing a story on children, reporters must ask those who know or work with them, or are experts on the issue, about the potential consequences of telling the story. 
By identifying the parents and siblings the journalist did not minimize harm. Furthermore, the article reveals that there is an inquest docket that has been opened. This means that there might be a court case as a result of this incident, potentially making these siblings witnesses to a crime. In light of this fact, it is possible that GroundUp could be in violation of the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3) which states “No person shall publish whatever information that reveals the identity of the ACCUSED under the age of 18 years or of a WITNESS at a criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years”
The article would have achieved the same value or impact if there were no child witnesses or parents were being identified. MMA would like to caution GroundUp and encourage them to be more considerate about child best interest in the future when covering a stories involving children.
MMA looks forward to engaging with GroundUp on this and more matters concerning coverage of children in the media.
By Msizi Mzolo
 MADs are given to journalists who have irresponsibly reported on children and compromised their rights and welfare
Find below the engagement between GroundUp and MMA over this article and commentary;
We have discussed this previously with MMA. MMA’s understanding of the press code, law and ethics is incorrect.
The parents understood it was a news article, provided the information for it, have seen the article, and are satisfied with the article. The community knows the names of the children independently of GroundUp. The children are not placed in harm by the GroundUp story.
We will not be changing the story.
Thank you very much for your response to our commentary regarding the article, “Tension high in informal settlement after child is electrocuted” (19/03/2020). Please find below our response;
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) through Make Abuse Disappear Online Accountability Tool (MADOAT) has been monitoring the mainstream media on how they report on children and issues facing them for over 10 years. GroundUp is among the online media that we have consistently monitored. The purpose of this monitoring is to highlight the best and worst examples of media reporting on children to push for increased accountability among editors and journalists when it comes to reporting on children’s issues. We don’t just monitor for the purposes of pointing out the worst coverage but also the best coverage.
Please note that before a commentary is made public, we share it with the media to engage and open a platform where MMA and that media can find a way to discuss the issues raised and work together to ensure the reporting follows the law as well as the best ethical practice when reporting on children. Please note that MMA only publishes the commentary once we have fully engaged with the relevant media. The commentary will be uploaded with all responses.
In your response to the commentary, you state, “The parents understood it was a news article, provided the information for it, have seen the article, and are satisfied with the article”. It is clear that you are confirming that you obtained informed consent from the adults involved in the story to tell their story. What is missing from the story and from your response to us is an understanding and confirmation that the required consent extends to the effect the sharing of certain information may have on the surviving minor children. Our concern is an apparent lack of understanding that when reporting on children, the role of the journalist, photographer and relevant editor changes – you become the gate keeper and have a greater responsibility to the children involved to ensure that best ethical practice is followed. This is because, in addition to the generally accepted ethical principles of reporting, there is a special emphasis on certain ethical standards and the inclusion of others that are not generally considered when reporting adults, from whom informed consent has been obtained. These principles, which at all stages need to be considered through the lens of Section 28(2) of the Constitution, include:
- Minimising Harm;
- The Best Interests of the Child;
- The Value of the Information included.
Minimising Harm and acting in the Best Interests of the Child:
We reiterate that this is a subjective test meaning that the test is whether the best interests of the actual children in question have been upheld and not an objective one – as your story wishes to state – namely the best interests of a class of children to be protected from the dangers of illegal connections. Whilst we agree that that is a very important story to tell, and at all times we support “green light” ethics – getting the most truth in while causing the least amount of harm – we respectfully submit that your story does not minimise harm while telling the most truth.
It is clear that your role as the gate keepers includes protecting children from overzealous parents who may not fully understand the ramifications of a story and are just so excited and relieved to have their matter in the media in the hope that finally something will be done, they are willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of the perceived greater outcome (good).
Value of the Information:
You further state in your response that “The community knows the names of the children independently of GroundUp”. When we talk about the withholding of children’s identities, directly or otherwise, we do this to protect the children not only from members of their community but also from “an average reader”. We believe such children may face potential risk of harm to keep them from testifying. At this stage, protecting their identities is an ethical decision based on the value of including the information – of which there is none, but hopefully soon, the perpetrators will be prosecuted thEn protection of identity will become a legal requirement.
The story would have had the same value and impact if all identities were withheld and as such we call on you to always gauge whether revealing identities of such children adds any value to the story.
MMA finds your revealing of identities unethical and that consequently you flouted the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media. Section 8.1.1 of the Code urges the media to exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting on children saying that “if there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified….”
We still request that you withdraw the identities of both parents and siblings from the article as the published stories poses harm to the children. While we appreciate that GroundUp seemingly sought consent from the parents, we hold the opinion shared with Child Rights Activists, and as stated above, sometimes so called informed consent is not actually “informed” as parents become increasingly more desperate for their stories to be told without fully understanding the consequences of having their or their children’s identities revealed. It is for this reason that it is imperative that journalists fully understand and then exercise their ethical duties and responsibilities to protect the children even when their parents give this consent to ensure that any story produced, is produced in the best interests of the children in all matters involving the children.
We consulted a person who has had extensive experience with the press code and complaints to formulate GroundUp’s response:
MMA’s objections boils down to the following:
1. The story did not minimise harm to the children;
2. Informed consent by parents may not be so “informed”; and
3. The identification of the children added nothing to the story.
The question is who would want to harm the children, and why.
The MMA’s only “argument” in this regard is: “We believe such children may face potential risk of harm to keep them from testifying.”
However, even if the children did actually witness the incident (which the story did not say), they most probably did not know who had made the electrical connections. So why would the perpetrators want to harm the children? They have no reason to do so – none at all.
If the story said they witnessed people making the illegal connections, that would have been a different kettle of fish.
As matters stand, we simply cannot see how the reportage could possibly have caused the children any harm. Unless MMA can explain this convincingly (it had the chance to do so, but did not do so adequately – not even close), we cannot buy its argument.
We also note that MMA quotes Section 8.1.1 of the Code selectively – it conveniently left out the condition, namely: “…without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult”.
We obtained such consent (fulfilling the onus that the Code placed on you) – which is why MMA now moves on to question the integrity of this consent.
Consent by parents
This argument is fundamentally flawed and even paternalistic – who is MMA to say the parents could have been “overzealous” and might not have “fully” understood the ramifications of the story? Do they know the parents? Have they investigated them? What gives the MMA the right to question their credibility, intellectual ability and integrity?
Moreover, surely it is not the role of the media to do psychiatric tests on parents in order to establish if they were in fact able to make a reasonable decision. The Code does not ask for such interventions/investigations.
Ponder the following statement by the MMA:
“It is clear that your role as the gate keepers includes protecting children from overzealous parents who may not fully understand the ramifications of a story and are just so excited and relieved to have their matter in the media in the hope that finally something will be done, they are willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of the perceived greater outcome (good).”
“Willing to sacrifice their children”? What would the parents say to that?
Not adding to the story
Again, we disagree – it did add a human element to the story.
And in any case, what section of the Code is transgressed if some statement did not “add to the story”?
Thank you for your response to our letter. While it is unfortunate that we could not agree, we do however acknowledge and appreciate your stance on the article in question. Please note that we will be uploading the commentary and ALL responses to our website.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) will continue to monitor your coverage of children and issues facing them and hopefully, one day, we can come together to see how GroundUp and MMA can work together to safeguard children’s interests in the media.
***MMA has used an edited screen grab of the online article to withhold the children’s identities.***