The articles, “Boy, 17, has parts of feet amputated after fleeing initiation” (12/01/2013, p.12) and “Boys feet mutilated” (10/01/2013) published in Saturday Star and Independent Online (IOL)’swebsite respectively, receive a MAD1 from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for directly identifying a victim of child abuse. Saturday Star and IOL share the MAD with SABC 1, 2, 3’s primetime news bulletins (13/01/2013), as well as Morning Live (14/01/2013) which also reported on the story and identified the child.
The reports in question start off well by informing the public about a 17–year-old boy who ran away from an initiation school in search of food, drawing the media consumer’s attention to abuses that sometimes occur in initiation schools. According to the reports, the boy was caught in his tracks and violently abused with a sjambok and his feet were burnt with fire.
The media outlets then chose to identify the victim, and in so doing violated his rights to privacy and dignity, by revealing his name and that of his family members. Ironically, the media houses do not dare let slip the name or area of where the accused are from.
To add insult to injury, the victim was then interviewed about his traumatic ordeal where he described in great detail the injustices that were committed against him and how painful the experience was. In particular, the child is quoted in Saturday Star and IOL saying, “I was screaming and crying from the unbearable pain before i collapsed…(Other) unspeakable practices took place at the school that I have been forbidden to talk about.” According to the quote, the child was clearly afraid to speak about what happened, which warranted further protection of his identity.
Thus, the failure to protect his identity contravenes Section 9.3 of the Press Code which states: “The press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse or exploitation…”
Moreover, Saturday Star is also a signatory to Media Monitoring Africa (MMA)’s Editorial Guidelines for reporting on children which state: “In all stories where identifying the child may cause harm, be sure to avoid indirect identification of the child through showing family, a school, residence, friends or a combination thereof.”
The journalist also potentially caused additional harm by sourcing Hartswater’s community policing forum chairman whose discouraging comments could arguably undermine the child having a positive attitude towards his recovery. For example, he was quoted saying the boy “was now doomed to a life of unemployment and poverty…he has been given a life sentence of forever being reliant on his parents, as he is immobile.”
The media outlets do not give the public holistic information regarding the current state of the boy, for example, it does not mention if the child is receiving any sort of psychological therapy for what he has endured.
In addition to the report, the television broadcast showed the boy using his hands on the ground to get to his wheelchair. This possibly elicits pity from the viewer at the expense of embarrassing the child.
The SABC has thus violated their Editorial Policy in several ways especially where it is stated:
•We are circumspect and sensitive in presenting any form of brutality, violence, atrocities of personal grief;
•We respect individuals’ legitimate right to privacy, and should not do anything that entails intrusion into private grief and
distress, unless it is justified by overriding considerations of public interest;
•The SABC is committed to not identifying child victims of abuse or crime, unless exceptional circumstances indicate it to
be demonstrably in the best interests of the child.
MMA therefore condemns and discourages journalists from identifying children in stories which are detrimental to their character development.
1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”↩