An article published by Sunday World earns itself a MAD from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for failing to protect the identity of the child in question.
The article titled, “[Name withheld]gets limited role in raising love child” (Sunday World, 23/06/2019, pg.2) which also appears on the SowetanLIVE/Sunday World website, reports on a former South African president and his relationship with a child he is reported to have fathered with the daughter of a prominent South African sports figure in 2009.
The article, relying on court papers filed at the Johannesburg High Court by the mother of the child, relates how the former president has given the woman absolute powers to raise and make decisions on behalf of the child without his consent. These include making decisions regarding the “religious and spiritual advancement of the child” as well as the right to depart with or remove the child from the country whenever she sees fit, without the father’s consent.
It further quotes sections from the court papers that reveal that the father is not allowed to see the child as he wishes. As such, he would have to first arrange with the mother and for there to be “a qualified person to assist in implementing a plan to facilitate such contact, provided that such contact is in the best interest of the child”.
MMA notes with concern the callous reporting by the journalist where they identify both the mother and father of the nine-year-old child, and as such indirectly revealing the identity of a minor involved in a maintenance case, contrary to what the Maintenance Act advises. “No person shall publish in any manner whatsoever the name or address of any person under the age of 18 years who is or was involved in any proceedings at a maintenance enquiry or the name of his or her school or any other information likely to reveal the identity of that person,” states the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998.
The identification of the child’s parents whether prominent figures or not, interferes with the child’s privacy and family, exposing the child’s reputation to risk of caricature.
Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) stipulates that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation. South Africa ratified the UNCRC in 1995.
Further, identifying the child is concerning because the child, being at the centre of a maintenance case has been subjected to potential mockery and ridicule.
This is further exacerbated by the headline of the article, which typecasts the child by referring to them as a “lovechild”, a term with derogatory connotations. Unicef’s Guidelines for Journalists Reporting on Children warns against this, urging journalists to “not further stigmatise any child; avoid categorisations or descriptions that expose a child to negative reprisals – including additional physical or psychological harm, or to lifelong abuse, discrimination or rejection by their local communities.”
The journalist also flouted Section 28(2) of the Bill of Rights of the South African constitution, which clearly states, “The child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”
As such, MMA kindly requests Sunday World to withdraw the identities of the child’s parents from their website and instead use pseudonyms to protect the child. We also request that the publication include an explanation to its audience as to why the decision to withdraw the parents’ identities was taken.
Additionally, we urge Sunday World to be more attentive in future when reporting about children who are involved in maintenance or domestic disputes. We look forward to reading stories that abide by legal and ethical reporting standards on children and that promote the best interests of the child.
By Azola Dayile
 A MAD is given to journalists for irresponsibly reporting on children and compromising their safety
 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996