Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) today launched its latest report focused on children’s portrayal in the news media. The report showed that coverage of children has increased from 6.5% in 2003 to 11.4 % in 2010. Speaking before the launch Ronell Singh, the MAD OAT researcher said, “The report comes at a time when media is under a lot of scrutiny which makes it all the more interesting to see how they fared when it came to reporting on one of South Africa’s most marginalised groups – children.” Although MMA reports an improvement since 2003 – when they started the annual monitoring project – according to the 2010 report, it seems that children’s views are still not seen in the media. When they do make it into the news, they are predominantly featured in crime and abuse stories with 46% of articles reporting on children generally, not in their best interest. MMA Director William Bird urged for an improvement in the representation of children. “While there are some improvements, we see that the number of children who actually get to speak is only 14% in stories specifically about children. Why is it when we do stories on children we so seldomly ask for their opinions?” he said. A significant positive shift however can be seen in ethical reporting on children. In 2003, 10% of all stories monitored clearly violated the rights of the child. This percentage has since decreased significantly, and is now 2%. While this is still 2% too many it is a significant positive shift. In terms of diversity, the report shows that there is still room for improvement on how children of different racial groups are represented as well as the different roles, e.g. victims, refugees, orphans, that children can and do occupy in society. In addition to the core findings, MMA released its second media ratings of children’s coverage. It rated the performance of print media against each other and showed which cover children the best and which media need a rethink in strategy. MMA’s unique Media Rating System (MRS) is known as DRIVE. It takes the following series of factors into consideration:

  • Diversity of children: The range of different roles in which children are portrayed and not just as victims of crime and abuse.
  • Rights respected: Identification and representation done with children’s best interests in mind.
  • Issues covered: Inclusion of news that is relevant to society and that reflects the complexity of children’s lives (such as health and education).
  • Voices Heard: Children accessed about stories relevant to them, when it is in their best interest.
  • Ethics: Careful attention afforded to respecting children’s rights.

Sowetan came in first in terms of the media ratings. Editor of the Sowetan, Mr Bongani Keswa said, “It was very pleasing to learn that we came in number one overall.” He went on to note that it was thanks to the empathy of Sowetan’s journalists that they did so well and that it was not due to a conscious effort. Public Editor of Avusa, Thabo Leshilo, noted that he was happy, Sowetan’s performance wasn’t due to a conscious effort as it meant that the Sowetan had started to internalize the importance of reporting well on children. The top five media according to the MMA ratings were:

  • 1. Sowetan.
  • 2. Daily Sun
  • 3. Saturday Star
  • 4. The Times
  • 5. The Star

Get a copy of the report.