Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD[1] to Daily Sun for its article titled “Don’t play here!” (31/08/2016, p.7) in which a badly assaulted child victim was identified.

The article is about a nine year old boy who was beaten for playing with his friends at a Centerville yard of broken cars in Letlhabile, North West. The group of children was chased out of the yard by a man who allegedly assaulted the child when he caught him and had he not been stopped, the man would have thrown the child into a cage with a pitbull. A case of assault with grievous bodily harm has since been opened and the man was arrested on the same charge. The boy and his mother are named and a photograph showing the child in his underwear with his mother holding him, in an effort to show the bruises, accompanies the article.

The fact that the alleged perpetrator was arrested and appeared in court should have cautioned the journalist from identifying the child who is a potential witness. By naming the child, Daily Sun subjected him to potential harm and intimidation and  contravened the Criminal Procedure Act section 154 (3)[2] and Section 8.3 of the Code of ethics and conduct for South African print and online media which states, “The press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse or exploitation”.

Even in instances where consent has been obtained from a parent or caregiver which is not mentioned in this case, MMA emphasises the need for this to be informed consent, where the consequences and risks of identification are fully explained and understood by those involved including the child and for journalists to further exercise their discretion in determining whether revealing the child’s identity would be in his/her the best interests.

Daily Sun’s poor choice in how it portrayed the child in the image accompanying the article also lacked consideration for upholding his dignity and privacy and instead further potentially subjected him to ridicule especially from his peers. When asked what she would change about the story during a monitoring exercise at Parkhurst Primary School, Tsegofatso Alaardt, a grade seven child media monitor said she would not use the picture in question for the story and would not identify the child or his mother.

“The child was abused so I would not identify him. Also the picture is embarrassing for him because he is half naked.” Alaardt added.

MMA urges Daily Sun and all media to take extra precaution when reporting a story of this nature in future.

By Msizi Mzolo

[1] A MAD refers to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage

[2] “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”