While reporting stories where children are witnesses to abuse or crime, media should be protecting children’s safety in addition to protecting their rights to dignity and privacy. This will ensure the safeguarding of those children’s best interest, which is a constitutional right clearly stated in Section 28(2) of the Bill of Rights of the South African constitution.[1]

Sunday Independent in an article titled, “Inside Senzo Meyiwa murder cover-up” (10/11/2019) reports a story of the murder of soccer player, Senzo Meyiwa and suspicions of a cover-up allegedly orchestrated by some senior police officials and the people who were present when Meyiwa was killed.

The publication acted in a manner that was not in the best interest of a child. In this article that appeared both on print (page 1) and online on the same date and under the same headline, a child who reportedly was present during the shooting of the goalkeeper is identified directly by his first name and indirectly through the naming of his mother who was also present during the incident.  It is for this reason that the publication gets a MAD[2] from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA).

In this particular incident, the legal process has been delayed and as such, it is unethical and illegal for the reporter to name a minor who might appear in court as a witness. This is not only for his safety but also to serve the interest of justice. The minimum expectation from the law is that the media (or anyone for that matter) should not publish any information that could reveal the identities of children involved in criminal proceedings as clearly stated in section 154 (3) of Criminal Procedure Act. The Act was recently ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal to read as follows, “No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”

In addition, Independent Media’s own Press Code was violated. Clause 3 of the Press Code states, “Whenever the identity of a child is disclosed, whether pictorially or in print – 3.1. The statutory restrictions on the naming or identification of children shall be observed and adhered to. 3.2 The interests of the privacy and the reputation of the child shall be considered and, where necessary, protected. 3.3 The permission of the parent or guardian of any child shall be sought in all cases where the identity of the child is to be disclosed. 3.4 Even if the parent or guardian consents to disclosure of identity of a child, Independent Media shall exercise a cautious discretion, if it may be harmful to the child to publish the identity of the child.”

Identifying children who are witnesses to a crime and are potential witnesses at criminal proceedings puts the children at risk of being harmed for retribution or to keep them from testifying therefore Sunday Independent should have adhered to Clause 3 particularly 3.4 of its own Press Code.

MMA expects higher ethical standards and sensitive reporting that ultimately considers the best interests of the people involved especially when they are children. Sunday Independent was negligentand going forward, the publication should practice what is enshrined in its own Press Code as well as the Criminal Procedure Act in order to minimise harm when reporting on children.

We are requesting Sunday Independent to withdraw the identity of the child and his mother from the online story and instead use pseudonyms. The publication should further provide an explanation to its audience as to why the decision to withdraw the identities was taken.

We look forward to reading more ethically reported stories about or involving children in future.

By George Kalu

[1] https://www.gov.za/documents/constitution/chapter-2-bill-rights

[2] MADs are given to journalists who have irresponsibly reported on children and compromised their rights and welfare