When reporting on children who are victims of and witnesses to a crime, the media must make sure that they are protecting those children’s dignity and privacy. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives SowetanLIVE, Times LIVE and IOL a MAD[i] for directly identifying children involved in criminal cases thereby endangering their lives and wellbeing.
The article titled, “Family rejects plea deal after dog mauls 5-year-old in park” (SowetanLIVE, 17/07/2020) reports on a five-year-old boy who was bitten by a dog while he was playing at a park in KwaZulu Natal. The story, which is also published on the TimesLIVE website reports that the dog owner let his dog loose on the children and this five-year-old lost his ears during the attack and had to go through surgery for many hours. The dog owner has reportedly approached the court to avoid jail time by admitting to the crime. The court case is still ongoing. In this story, the journalist directly identifies the child by naming him and publishing a picture of the child on a hospital bed with his face swollen from the injuries.
The other article, “Girl, 12, survives gang bullet while running to greet her father during loadshedding” (IOL, 17/07/2020) is about a 12-year-girl who was allegedly shot by gangsters in Hanover Park in Cape Town. This is an area reportedly notorious for its gangsterism. According to the story, the child was meeting her father on the streets when gang members started shooting randomly and she was shot in the back. The journalist publishes the child’s and her father’s identities through picture and name. The child also shares her ordeal in the article indicating she had been interviewed.
Identifying the two child victims was unethical andagainst the legal frameworks that advise against this. SowetanLIVE, IOL and TimesLIVE violated the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154(3) which states that, “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.”
The journalists put the children at risk by revealing their identities as they are victims of and witnesses to crimes. This compromises their safety as they might be harmed to stop them from being witnesses in court etc.
The journalist from IOL also violated ethics by interviewing the child victim who was still traumatised after being shot. The girl shares the story of how she got shot. This is unethical as it potentially leads to secondary trauma as the child is forced to relive the events by sharing her ordeal. Interviewing the child victim is against MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media.[ii] The Guidelines advise, “When interviewing children, respect their privacy and confidentiality and make sure you protect them from harm and potential consequences.”
MMA always urges journalists to not interview children in such situations if those children have not gone through counseling. And even in instances where they have undergone counseling, the journalist should only interview them in the presence of a counselor who will gauge the children’s fitness to recount their ordeal at different times of the interview.
Because of the potential for harm on the children involved, MMA requests SowetanLIVE, TimesLIVE and IOL to withdraw the identities of the children and their parents from the articles and to instead use pseudonyms. We also request that an explanation be given to readers as to why the decision to withdraw was taken.
We urge these and other media to be extra cautious in future when reporting on child victims and potential witnesses at criminal proceedings.
[i] MADs refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage