It is an uncommon occurrence for children involved in muti-related kidnappings to escape unscathed. However, in what seems to be a lucky escape for one child who was allegedly kidnapped for these purposes, several media namely, The New Age, Sowetan Live, Drum online magazine, Daily Voice and City Press online published a brief article1 by Sapa identifying the child thereby exposing him to further harm. It seems whilst reporting on this extraordinary story, the afore-mentioned media houses forgot the all important principle of reducing harm.
The briefs described how a “Cape Town boy was snatched by four men who allegedly wanted to sell his body parts for muti.” The men reportedly returned him, not far from where the kidnapping allegedly took place, after they were turned away by a sangoma who complained about the boy being “too dark.”The media under scrutiny went on to name both the child and his aunt.
In light of the guidelines by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ),2 “If a child is featured in a story that reflects well on the child and where the child is not a victim, and where coverage has the agreement of the child and parents, and where it does not put the child at risk, there is a positive argument for respecting the identity of the child and using his or her name.” This story, however, does none of the above, showing that it was not in the best interests of the child to be named.
It is also mentioned in the briefs that the boy’s captors have been charged with kidnapping thus making the child a potential witness in the case. This warrants his protection as mandated by Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act which 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.”
Media Monitoring Africa acknowledges that reporting on children can pose a huge challenge to reporters or the media at large. We thus urge the concerned media to always remember the most significant guiding principle when reporting on children, and that is to always consider the interests of the child or children they are reporting on.
1. The organisation provides a framework for media professionals to work through difficult issues. The guidelines section aims to address some of the practical issues journalists have to consider. seehttp://www.unicef.org/eapro/Telling_their_stories.pdf p.36↩