The deaths of ten school children after a minibus taxi crashed into a train was widely reported in the news for a number of weeks. However, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) regrets that many news outlets covering the story have earned MADs for failing to uphold the rights of the child victims and their families.
The Times’ “School taxi driver arrested” (30/08/2010 p.5) and the Sunday Times’ “Crash driver cheated death daily” (29/08/2010 p.6) spoke in great detail about how the accident occurred. Unfortunately, both these newspapers interviewed and named a child witness. This is not in his best interest as it could subject him to secondary trauma. Neither story indicated whether there was a professional psychologist or social worker present when the child was interviewed. Furthermore, as the story in The Times clearly stated, the driver was arrested on charges of culpable homicide. Publishing the child’s comments is unwise as it may unwittingly impact the criminal case. In addition as the child is a witness to a crime, it is against the law to identify him.
According to 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… a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.
Coverage of the tragedy by various media including, The Star, The Times, The Saturday Star, The Sunday Times and SABC3 mentioned a little girl who died in the accident but was raped four years ago by a family friend. MMA found the coverage insensitive to the deceased’s family as it gave graphic details of the rape.
It would not have been acceptable for newspapers to identify this child and give details of her ordeal if she was still alive. Nor is it acceptable now that she is dead.
The television coverage on SABC 3 and ETV showed extensive footage of the members of the children’s families crying in grief. This is an invasion of the family’s privacy.
When reporting on incidents which involve children, media must exercise extreme care because of the negative impact it may have on a child, or on their families This is especially true in the case of a tragedy such as this taxi crash. We at MMA encourage responsible and ethical reporting on children.