Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD to The New Age for failing to protect the identity of a child victim and potential witness in criminal proceedings in an article describing the circumstances in which two children were severely assaulted.
“Teen beat my child to death” (The New Age, 27/09/2017, p.1) reports on a 17-year-old in northern KwaZulu-Natal who allegedly beat two children she was looking after. As a result of the beating, one of the children, a two-year-old, tragically passed on and the second child, a four-year-old girl, sustained injuries on her head. According to the article, police confirmed the teenager had been arrested for murder and attempted murder.
While MMA acknowledges the efforts by The New Age to protect the identity of the child offender in the article, there are some concerns raised about the decision to directly identify the surviving child by naming her and indirectly identifying her through her younger sister who was allegedly murdered and their parents. Identifying the child victim in such cases is problematic at different levels, both legally and ethically, as the child is a victim and therefore a potential witness in criminal proceedings. Furthermore, identifying children under such circumstances can subject them to secondary trauma by publishing the details of their trauma in public along with their identities.
While it is clear that The New Age made efforts to highlight infanticide in South Africa through this story by using it as an opportunity to inform the reader about the rates of child murders in the country, MMA emphasises the need to act in the best interests of the children involved. MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media state that journalists should always respect the best interests of the individual child, “Even where [they] are trying to tell people about harm to children in general or another children’s issue or promote children’s rights.” More particularly, the guidelines stress the need for journalists to always protect the identity of children who are victims or are witnesses to crimes and state, “Children involved in legal proceedings need even more protection, and are at greater risk, so make sure to always protect their identity”. These principles are in line with Section 28(2) of the South African Constitution and Section 8.1 of the Code of Ethics and conduct for South African print and online media which state: “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child”. This places responsibility on editors and journalists to ensure that they adequately protect children in their reporting and act in their best interests.
We hope that in future The New Age will make an effort to put the interests of the children involved in the stories first.
By Jacques Ndong
MADs refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage
 MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children available here:  http://220.127.116.11/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/mma_editorial_guideline.pdf