Zephany Nurse’s story has been on the news agenda for weeks. A rare happening it was, it was bound to garner public attention. At the heart of it all is a young girl who is probably confused, shocked and is still trying to come into terms with the news that a family that she has called her own is not really hers.

Zephany Nurse as she is dubbed in the media was kidnapped 17 years ago at a hospital. She was only three days old at the time of the kidnapping. In an amazing turn of events she was found recently and reunited with her biological family.

One can only imagine the level of trauma and shock that the girl is facing, and the difficulties of having to reconcile with the fact that the woman who brought her up is not her biological mother.

The media’s role in facilitating this healing process of Zephany Nurse is a critical one. And so far the media has played their part, well at least some.

A request by Centre for Child Law, a legal organisation that is representing Zephany, emphasised the need for the media to treat the story with due care and to not reveal the identity of Zephany.

This is however not only the Centre’s request but that of Zephany who in a press statement by the Centre said “she does not want to become a celebrity and wants to live a normal life.”

Exercising exceptional care and consideration when reporting on children, especially if coverage might cause harm, is a basic principle in the South African Press Code.

Notably, to a large extent, exceptional care has been exercised throughout the coverage of this story by various media houses; Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) however notes that not every media house have not heeded Zephany’s plea.

Online articles by Citizen and The Times, respectively titled, “Alleged baby snatcher in court” (27/02/2015) and “Woman who snatched baby Zephany 18-years ago makes an appearance in court” (27/02/2015) sourced from Sapadisappointingly identified the woman who allegedly kidnapped Zephany.

The articles also show that the media in question were aware that they are not supposed to identify the woman as demonstrated in the following sentence, “S&8$%#n1  is also to attend an identity parade, and for this reason, the court banned the publication of any pictures of her, or any details about the girl, now aged 18.”

This demonstrates that they went ahead to name the woman knowing that they were not allowed to do so; a name is equally as identifying as a picture.

The reports are also misleading because they state that the girl is now 18. This is false. Zephany Nurse will only be turning 18 in April.

MMA also found that SABC online article “Alleged Zephany kidnapper in court” (06/03/2015) was guilty of identifying the woman accused of kidnapping Zephany.

This is disappointing as the media have been cautioned about revealing any information that might lead to the identity of Zephany Nurse. This includes information about the woman who kidnapped her as it will make it easy for the public and those with vested interests in the case to know Zephany’s real identity.

MMA would like to caution the media not to identify Zephany Nurse. It is also important to honour this request even when she has turned 18.

By Kgalalelo Morwe

1. Media Monitoring Africa deliberately did this to hide the identity of the woman accused of kidnapping Zephany.