Sowetan’s article, “I will not pay maintenance” (22/07/09, p. 5), was something to be MAD about. The article received a MAD OAT Mad nomination for contravening the Maintenance Act by indirectly identifying the children in the article and failing to protect their rights to privacy and dignity. As this is not the first time Sowetan had done this, for which it received previous MAD OAT Mad nominations, this article is particularly maddening.
The article indirectly identified the two children by naming and providing a picture of their father.
Section 36 of the Maintenance Act 99 of 98 states:
“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.”
This legislation is underpinned by the need to ensure that the best interests of the child are paramount in all decisions affecting children.
Identifying a child, directly or indirectly, in stories that deal with sensitive issues like maintenance may subject them to humiliation and peer victimisation. The child’s peers may be aware of the story and tease him/her, as if the fault lies with them and not with the parent.
In this particular story, indirectly identifying the children and associating them with a father who reportedly “would rather be sentenced again than pay maintenance for his two children” is particularly insensitive.
Children from Eastgate Primary School were asked what they thought about the article. Khanyile Noncebo said that the article violated the children’s rights to privacy and dignity through indirect identification. When asked what he would change if he was the editor of the article, Rapelang Gaamane said he would change the father’s name and picture to avoid indirect identification. (Workshop, 28/07/091).
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) understands that the journalist’s intentions might have been to shame the father into meeting his responsibilities but this should not be done at the expense of shaming the child or violating his/her rights to privacy.
When reporting on children, journalists need to consider if the story is in the best interest of the child, as children are vulnerable and their rights to privacy and dignity need to be protected at all times.
What was particularly frustrating about this article was the fact that Sowetan published it in spite of receiving two MAD OAT Mad nominations previously for similar reporting on maintenance issues, where the Maintenance Act was contravened (see “Celebrity Maintenance stories can cause harm to children” and “Unnecessary details does more harm than good”).
This appears to be a sign of nonchalance with respect to reporting on matters affecting children and the concerns highlighted by MMA.
As yachtsman John Powell once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
Sowetan has been commended by MMA on a number of occasions for its reporting on children, and we hope that in the future, we can nominate it for a Glad for its reporting on maintenance.
1As part of its Empowering Children and the Media Strategy, MMA has been working with learners in three schools in Johannesburg, developing their knowledge of children’s rights and their skills in media monitoring. They have been monitoring newspapers, radio and television. For more information on this project, contact MMA.