“No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years,”  Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3).

Such is the restriction on identifying children involved in crime by the Criminal Procedure Act. The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in 2018 that this protection be extended to victims of crimes and not just the accused or witnesses.

Daily Voice, in its reporting of the story headlined, “Cop accused of riding over boy, not taking him to hospital” (24/08/2020) grossly contravened this Section of the Criminal Procedure Act and as a result, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has selected the article as a MAD.[1]

The story, which is published on Independent Online (IOL) website, reports on a 13-year-old child who was allegedly driven over by a police officer in Cape Town. The story further reports that the police officer cop let the child remove his own leg whose flesh was tearing off from under the wheel of the police vehicle. The child was reportedly told to get in the vehicle and was dropped at home. His mother clearly expresses dismay in the article at the failure and refusal by the policeman to take the child he had hurt to the hospital.

The child and his mother are named and identified pictorially. . The child is also interviewed thereby being subjected to further trauma and harm.

Daily Voice, as part of Independent Media, has flouted its own Press Code which states in Section 3, “Whenever the identity of a child is disclosed, whether pictorially or in print – 3.1. The statutory restrictions on the naming or identification of children shall be observed and adhered to; 3.2 The interests of the privacy and the reputation of the child shall be considered and, where necessary, protected; 3.3 The permission of the parent or guardian of any child shall be sought in all cases where the identity of the child is to be disclosed; 3.4 Even if the parent or guardian consents to disclosure of identity of a child, Independent Online shall exercise a cautious discretion, if it may be harmful to the child to publish the identity of the child.”

Section 3.1 of the Code has been contravened by not adhering to the Criminal Procedure Act’s restriction on naming a child. Section 3.4 has also been contravened because identifying this child compromises his safety.

That the person who harmed him is a police officer  who has not been arrested yet, potentially puts this child at risk of harm for retribution or to be kept from testifying.

In addition to potentially subjecting him to harm by identifying him, Daily Voice has also further exacerbated this harm by interviewing the child. Making the child recount his traumatic experience has potentially lengthened this healing process. Further, details from the parts of the interview that have been published might be used against him during court proceedings.

MMA always urges the media to be extra cautious when reporting on children who have the potential to be harmed by coverage. Our Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media advise media stating, “Even where you are trying to tell people about harm to children or another children’s issue or promote children’s rights, you always need to respect the best interests of the individual child. The best interests of each child are to be protected over any other consideration.”

The Guidelines go on to state, “Always hide a child’s identity where the child might be at risk. No stories or images will be published that might put the child, siblings or peers at risk even when identities are changed, obscured or not used.”

We implore the media to always conduct their reporting on children in a manner that is in the best interest of children. The principle of children’s best interest is supported by Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights of the South African constitution.

We are requesting IOL to withdraw the child’s and his mother’s identities from the article and instead use pseudonyms to protect the child. We further ask that the photographs accompanying the article be edited to not visibly show the faces of the child and his mother. Further, an explanation should be given as to why the decision to withdraw the identities was taken.

We look forward to reading more cautiously reported stories of children in future.

By Lister Namumba

[1] A MAD is given to media when they report on children in an irresponsible manner