Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives IOL a MAD[1] for an article indirectly identifying a child therefore compromising the child’s wellbeing.

The article titled, “Five-year-old boy left out of class because of runny nose(IOL, 16/11/2020) reports on a five-year-old learner who is being deprived of an education by his teacher because he is suspected of having contracted the Coronavirus. The boy was reportedly sent home on the first day when schools reopened in September because of a runny nose.

The article identifies the child indirectly by naming his mother, the school he goes to and the grade he is in. The child is already a victim of stigmatisation and now this has potentially been made worse by his indirect identification.  

During this time of the global pandemic of the Coronavirus, Covid-19 is unfortunately a disease that potentially has stigma attached to it. Therefore, if a person is identified as one with the virus or even merely suspected to have the virus (such as is the case with this child), people will avoid being close to them for fear of contracting the virus. Because of the journalist’s irresponsible reporting, the child may be further discriminated and stigmatised than he already is and no one will want to be around him. This might affect his wellbeing as well as his self-esteem.

MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media[2] advise journalists to protect the identity of a child when reporting on issues involving stigmatisation. The Guidelines advise that the identity of a child in such a situation should not be revealed either directly or indirectly, unless there are exceptional circumstances and informed consent has been attained.

Further, we believe the journalist missed an opportunity to delve into the issue of pupils merely suspected to have Covid-19 and questioned whether they should be sent home. Additionally, the journalist could have used the platform and/or story to advocate for people to stop stigmatising and/or discriminating against those suspected to be positive for or to have had Covid-19.

MMA requests IOL to withdraw the child’s mother’s identity from the article and instead use a pseudonym. In addition, an explanation should be given to the readers as to why the decision to withdraw the identities was taken.

We look forward to seeing more ethical reporting around such issues.

By Yinhla Ngobeni

[1] A MAD is given to journalists for irresponsibly reporting on a child