Seeing a person die must be very traumatic and hard to forget more especially when you are a child and the incident that led to the person dying happens right in front of you. Children who experience such need counselling from an expert to recover and interviewing them about the ordeal for a news story before counselling is not advisable as it exposes them to further harm. It is against this background that the article, “Learner stabbed to death by classmate” (The Star, 08/10/2019, p.1) has been selected as a MAD by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA).
The article is about a grade nine learner who was allegedly stabbed by his classmate in Sebokeng. The incident happened in front of other learners who reportedly said they thought the two were playing and not fighting. The story gives graphic details of how the boy died in the sick room where his classmates had taken him after noticing that he had been stabbed. This is told through one of the learners who is interviewed in the story. The story reports that this interviewed child is “traumatised”. The article goes on to report that “counselling would be offered to all who were affected by the incident”, indicating that the child who was interviewed was made to recount horrifying details of the ordeal before undergoing counselling.
MMA condemns this irresponsible act by the journalist of interviewing a traumatised child about the ordeal. We believe that the journalist should have been extra cautious when covering the story and rather waited until the child had been through counselling. We strongly believe interviewing children about traumatic events they have witnessed before counselling and in the absence of a counsellor exposes the children to further potential harm as they have to relive the traumatic experience. MMA also believes doing this potentially lengthens the child’s healing process.
According to Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media, in order to minimise harm when writing a story on children, which they are duty bound to do, reporters must ask those who know or work with them, or are experts on the issue, about the potential consequences of telling the story.
In addition, the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media advise the media in Section 8.1 to “exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children.” The Section goes on to say, “If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed…”
Further, as the case has not yet been presented in the court of law, quoting the child witness to the crime who is a potential witness at criminal proceedings might affect the case as the interview might be used against his testimony.
MMA would like to advise The Star not to repeat such coverage as this brings potential harm to children.
By Msizi Mzolo
MADs are given to journalists who have irresponsibly reported on children and compromised their rights and welfare