Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives both DispatchLive and Weekend Argus a MAD[1] for their articles that directly and indirectly identify child victims thereby subjecting them to secondary trauma and other harm.

The article by DispatchLive titled, “Mom of Tsomo miracle baby now charged with attempted murder” (17/11/2021) reports on a mother who buried alive her new-born baby in a graveyard. According to the article, the baby was buried by the mother a day after being born and was discovered still alive by neighbours 24 hours later. It is reported in the article that the mother was charged with attempted murder.

The journalist directly identifies the child by naming her and her mother. The article is also accompanied by a photograph of the mother alongside her family members. The journalist’s irresponsible reporting has subjected the child to potential victimisation that might come as result of being identified as the child who was buried alive by her mother.

The story by Weekend Argus, “Police kill father of three after raiding his house” (27/11/2021) reports on a 13-year-old child who witnessed the murder of his father. According to the article, the father was shot by a police officer when the police raided their house. It is reported that the father died on the scene and the mother is quoted in the article saying that when the incident happened, the child witnessed everything. The article mentions that the case is being investigated which makes the child a potential witness at criminal proceedings.

The child is indirectly identified through the naming of his mother and his deceased father. The mother is also photographed in the story. By identifying the child, the journalist has potentially subjected him to secondary trauma that may occur as a result of seeing the story and his identity in the media. Further, that the child is a potential witness at criminal proceedings should have made the journalist to be extra careful about identifying the child in any way as this not only violates the Criminal Procedure Act but also potentially puts the child at risk of being harmed to be kept from testifying.

By identifying the children in these stories, both media have flouted Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act which is in place to protect children from being subjected to potential harm. The Section states, “No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”[2]

Clause 8.1 of the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media which DispatchLive subscribes to explicitly urges the media to “exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children”. The Section of the Code goes on to state, “If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest is evident.”

Independent Media’s own Press Code to which Weekend Argus subscribes states in Section three, “Whenever the identity of a child is disclosed, whether pictorially or in print – The statutory restrictions on the naming or identification of children shall be observed and adhered to. The interests of the privacy and the reputation of the child shall be considered and, where necessary, protected. 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. Even if the parent or guardian consents to disclosure of identity of a child, Independent Online shall exercise a cautious discretion, if it may be harmful to the child to publish the identity of the child.”[3]

Therefore, by not exercising a “cautious discretion” and going ahead to identify the child, Weekend Argus violated its own Press Code and potentially subjected the child to harm.

Additionally, there is no public interest in knowing the identities of the children in these stories.

MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media advise the media by stating, “Always hide a child’s identity where the child might be at risk. No stories or images will be published that might put the child, siblings or peers at risk even when identities are changed, obscured or not used.”[4]

We urge all journalists to be cautious especially when reporting about issues involving children to avoid possible secondary trauma by identifying child victims or compromising the children’s safety.

We are kindly requesting that both DispatchLive and Weekend Argus withdraw all the identities from the articles and instead use pseudonyms to protect the children. We further ask that the photographs accompanying the articles be edited to not visibly show the faces of the children’s parents.

We look forward to reading more ethically reported stories about children and issues facing them.

Written by Yinhla Ngobeni

Edited by Lister Namumba

[1] MADs are given to journalists for irresponsible reporting that compromises children’s safety