Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) condemns Sunday Times for showing an invasive image of children urinating. The picture published alongside a story titled “Provinces fail to fund poorest pupils”(Sunday Times, 09/06/2013 p.4), draws attention to the unsanitary conditions and lack of proper toilet facilities in a primary school in Limpopo.

The image, seemingly used to illustrate the severity of the problem, shows two children relieving themselves in a deplorable latrine. The children’s faces are recognisable, and as such MMA feels that the image clearly invades their privacy. Therefore, declared it a MAD.1

According to the Times Media Group Editorial policy “Children’s rights to privacy and dignity deserve the highest degree of protection.” However, Sunday Times has failed to adhere to this ethical principle when using the image; consequently, breaching the children‘s rights to privacy and undermining their dignity.

Furthermore, Sunday Times seemingly failed to take into consideration the negative impact the image can have on the children.

By publishing the image, the Sunday Times has made the children in the picture vulnerable to possible humiliation or ridicule from their peers. The image should have been used with extreme care and ensured that the identities of the children are protected. Possibly, the photographer could have used an image of the dilapidated toilet facilities without including the children in it. This would have been equally powerful and would have highlighted the issue.

What is also a cause of concern is whether the children gave informed consent2 to have this picture of them taken. It is not clear whether this was the case.

MMA feels that the story was essential to tell because it exposed the terrible sanitary conditions in public schools and how the government is failing children in poor communities. We however would like to suggest that, in future, Sunday Times use pictures that do not violate the privacy and dignity of children.

1. As part of their efforts to support human rights in the media, MMA identifies items which violate or uphold the rights of children on a weekly basis. A MAD is an analysis written on an item that violates sthe rights of children.
2. Informed consent is “An agreement to do something or to allow something to happen made with complete knowledge of all relevant facts, such as the risks involved, or any available alternatives.”