One of the most important ethics of journalism is the elimination of harm to children when reporting on stories that involve them as victims and/or witnesses to crimes. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) congratulates Timeslives, The Citizen, IOL and News24 for articles nominated as GLADs of the week in which journalists adhered to ethical guidelines when reporting on the children involved.
The first article, “Horror parents ‘abusive to children’” (The Citizen, 31/07/2018, p.8) is about a court case in Mpumalanga involving parents of three children where the mother is accused of rape, child neglect and neglecting to report sexual crimes while the father is facing charges of rape, child abuse and sexual grooming. The children are aged nine-months, six-days (at the time he was “found unconscious with an empty stomach, suffering from jaundice and on a mat covered in dog faeces”) and eight-years old. Gerhard Rheeder, the journalist protects the identity of the children by not naming their parents. The journalist even goes further in the article to explain why the decision to withhold the parents’ identities was taken by clearly stating, “The parents’ names are being withheld to protect the children involved.”
“Cape Town man ordered to remove all pornographic material which his wife is part of from digital devices” (News24, 11/08/2018) reports on a couple about to divorce in court over the man’s threats to distribute explicit material in which his wife appears as a way to get her “into acceding to his demands during their divorce”. Even though the article is not about children, the journalist, Mxolisi Mngadi states in the article that the couple cannot be identified to protect their children.
The third article, “A chilling glimpse into paedo accused’s house of horrors” (Timeslive, 04/08/2018) reports on a court case involving a man accused of raping his stepdaughter “nearly 1000 times”. According to the police quoted in the article, the 10-year-old child is said to have suffered “systematic rape at the hands of her stepfather as often as every second night”. Other than quoting the police, the journalist, Jeff Wicks also interviews Joan Van Niekerk of Childline who highlights challenges faced by abused children. The accused is not named and the journalist explains that it is to protect the identity of the child.
Lastly, “Mom, lover cleared of sexual assault, rape” (IOL, 11/08/2013) also protects the identity of a child involved in a story where her mother was acquitted on charges of rape and sexual assault against the child. It is reported that the mother is alleged to have “forced her then 11-year-old daughter to have sex with her lover, a 54-year-old taxi driver, in exchange for money”. The journalist, Nadia Khan explains that the couple “cannot be named to protect the identity of the minor child”. Just as is the case with the story above, the journalist includes views from an expert, Alvin Brijlal of Victims Outreach Information Centre who says, “It is important to remember when dealing with such sensitive cases involving children that the child did not ask to be abused, and when questioned about what happened [,] they would feel scared and intimidated.”
All the articles above except the one by News24 adhered to legal requirements when reporting on children where identity is concerned. The Criminal Procedure Act, Section 154(3) states, “No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the … witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.” The child in the article by News24 is not a witness at the proceedings.
Further, all four adhered to the code of ethics and conduct for South African print and online media which states in Section 8.1.3, “[The media shall] not identify children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime, without the consent of their legal guardians (or a similarly responsible adult) and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child), a public interest is evident and it is in the best interests of the child.”
MMA encourages this kind of reporting on children in such stories as it protects the children from victimisation, intimidation, retribution and/or secondary trauma that might come as a result of being identified in the media.
We hope that this ethical reporting in the articles above will become standard practice for News24, The Citizen, Timeslive and IOL and the media in general.
By Ntsako Manganyi
 A GLAD is awarded when a journalist reports on a child responsibly and the best interest of the child is promoted.