It is quite unfortunate to find two articles by the same reporter that are inconsistent in applying the principle of minimising harm within a space of two weeks. These articles from Daily Sun highlight a need for continuous caution and consistency when reporting on children and vulnerable people.
Daily Sun’s “Pupil beaten for making a noise in class” (20/05/2015. p. 7) is classified as a MAD1 by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) as it directly identifies a child who is a victim of abuse. The article is about a six-year-old boy who was assaulted by his teacher for allegedly making noise in class.
While the article does a good job of raising awareness about cases of corporal punishment in schools the journalist failed to act in the best interests of the child and minimise harm by revealing his name, the name of his school and his grandmother. Consequently, this might expose the boy to more harm and retribution from other teachers or those with a vested interest in this matter. Children from Parkhurst Primary School2 were asked what they thought about the article. They said that the article violated the child’s rights to privacy and dignity through identifying him. And that should “the boy’s parents sue the teacher; the teacher’s friends might harm the boy in order to protect their friend. At school the other children might make fun of him.”
It is also important to note that by identifying the child, Daily Sun, violated Section 8.3 of the South African Press Code which stipulates, “The press shall not identify children, who have been victims of abuse or exploitation, or have been charged or convicted of a crime”. This is because of the vulnerability of children and the potential harms that they might be exposed to as a result of them being identified.
Furthermore, MMA feels that the journalist could have used this article as an opportunity to educate and inform the public about the implications of corporal punishment on the well-being of the child.
Sources such as psychologists and other experts could have helped breakdown the effects that children as young as six years could endure as a result of this type of abuse, and how parents and children who find themselves in similar situations can be assisted dealing with the trauma going forward.
MMA believes Daily Sun and in particular the journalist could have done a better job in protecting the identity of the abused child and avoided exposing him to potential harm because judging from another article he wrote, “HORNY SANGOMA TERROR!” (29/05/2015 p.21), he is well aware of the ethics of reporting on victims of abuse. Unlike the previous article, Dan Mdluli, went far and beyond to protect the identity of a rape victim.
In the story, he relates how two women came forward to report a man who raped both of them in 2005 and 2009 respectively. One of the victims is a 24 year old who was raped 10 years ago, while she was still a child.
Dan Mdluli, further mentioned that the woman “cannot be named to protect her identity”. He continued telling the story without revealing any identifying information of the victim. The accompanying image of the young woman showing only her back also demonstrates the extra effort made to protect her identity.
The two articles above highlight how reporters sometimes violate or ignore basic rights of children when reporting on issues that involve them and most importantly how ethical reporting is sometimes an exception rather than a rule.
The reality is that children will always make news, bad and good. Media have the responsibility to report these news as they happen. But most importantly, they have the critical choice to either further cause harm or minimise it. If we are to protect children, we need to be promoting the latter choice and act in their best interests at all times.
By Ntsako Manganyi
1. MADs- Refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage↩
2. As part of its Empowering Children and the Media Strategy, Parkhurst Primary school participates in MMA’s Make Abuse Disappear Online Accountability Tool (MAD OAT) where learners aged between 12 and 14 are taught media literacy and media monitoring skills↩
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