Media must prioritise children’s best interest

For 30 years, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has been promoting ethical and fair journalism which supports human rights, including children’s rights. Media has a duty to uphold with regards to children’s protection in coverage in accordance with legislation, rights frameworks, and ethics of journalism. While all children need protection in media coverage, those involved in stories on crime and abuse need the most protection.

To protect children involved in stories on crime, Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act of 2021[1] is clear on cases when the media can and cannot identify children. When it comes to identifying children, the Act guides, “No person shall before, during or at any stage after the conclusion of criminal proceedings, in any manner, including on any social media or electronic platform publish any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused, victim or witness who is or was under the age of 18-years-old at the time of the alleged commission of an offence.”

It is concerning when media continues to report on children in a manner that disregards their interests and wellbeing. It is for this reason that MMA gives Daily Maverick a MAD[2] because the publication failed to protect a child in an articles titled, “Family of Cradock five-year-old locked in classroom for three icy days want answers”(18/05/2023). The article reports on a five-year-old boy who reportedly endured being locked inside a classroom for three days in freezing weather. According to the article, on a Friday afternoon, the child went missing, prompting the opening of a missing person’s report with the police after he failed to return from school. Throughout the weekend, which reportedly happened to be one of the coldest of the year, the community tirelessly searched for him, but their efforts were in vain. It wasn’t until Monday morning when he was found inside the classroom. The article further reports that the classroom is located approximately four kilometres away from the main school complex. It is also reported that the family is considering legal action against the school and that the department of basic education, and the police are investigating the matter.

The article reveals the name of the child as well as shares his face in a photograph accompanying the article. This  is a major concern as the child is a victim in a serious case of abuse and potentially of crime. Daily Maverick’sfailure to protect the identity of the child involved violates ethical guidelines, including ensuring the protection of individuals’ privacy and dignity.

 Further, MMA’s Ethical Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media have also be flouted.

By identifying him, the article subjects the child to potential harm such as bullying and victimisation .  Protecting the identity of children in such reporting is crucial for their safety, privacy, and well-being. Further, identifying this child is a violation of his rights to privacy and dignity.

MMA urges Daily Maverick to withdraw from the article the child’s name, his aunt’s name and, to blur the accompanying photograph which shows his face. We further ask that pseudonyms instead be used, and an explanation be given to readers as to why the decision to withdraw the child’s identity was taken.  

We encourage Daily Maverick to keep on reporting on children’s stories and prioritise their best interest and well-being.

Written by Ntombifuthi Kubeka

Edited by Lister Namumba


[2] MADs are given to media for irresponsibly reporting on children and compromising their safety.