For failing to protect the identity of a vulnerable child and accessing children for their views when not in the children’s best interests, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD[1] to Independent Online (IOL) and Daily Sun.

The articles titled, “Bangladeshi national who ‘viciously’ stabbed his wife to death in front of their children, jailed” (IOL, 16/02/2024) and “Pupil shoots principal over zwepe” (Daily Sun, 16/02/2024) by did not adhere to best and ethical journalistic practice when reporting on stories where minors are involved.

The first article (published by IOL) reports on a domestic violence incident where a man mortally wounded his wife in front of their children, this reportedly after being engaged in a verbal dispute in a vehicle the family was travelling in. The man who is identified in the article has since been sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

The article is in contravention of the principles of journalistic best practice because it publishes the name of the perpetrator, thereby indirectly identifying his children who are witness to his brutal deeds. By doing so, the journalist places the children at risk of aggravated trauma, complicates their recovery process, and inhibits future cooperation with law enforcement.[2] Accessing children who are witness to crimes may hinder further cooperation with investigations by heightening fears of retribution and increased public scrutiny. The fact that this is a criminal matter should have made the journalist more cautious about identifying the children. Indirectly identifying these children who are witnesses to the crime and potential witnesses at criminal proceedings is in contravention of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act[3]

The second article (published by Daily Sun) is about a 13-year-old boy who shot his school principal after reportedly being suspended from school for alleged gambling.  The article proceeds to interview pupils from the school within a day of the incident, which is ethically problematic for several reasons:

         I.            It is unclear whether the reporter obtained parental/caregiver consent to interview the children.

       II.            The child victims had received no trauma counselling or psychological intervention prior to the interview.

     III.            Children who are witnesses of violent crimes are still in shock and need comfort and professional help, not questioning.

    IV.            Interviewing such vulnerable children may inflict further harm, distress, and grief which is certainly not in their best interests.

MMA does not imply that journalists should refrain from interviewing children who have undergone traumatic experiences. Instead, we advise that the media should conduct such interviews only after obtaining written and fully informed consent from both the children according to their evolving capacity and their parents and guardians. We further urge the media to only interview the children once the children have received sufficient counselling and/or are accompanied by a qualified counsellor.[4]

While MMA recognises the significance and necessity of reporting on matters that involve, affect, or have an impact on children, we believe it is essential that this is carried out in a principled and considered manner consistent with the child’s best interests. The children involved in media stories should not be subjected to harm, including potential harm through the actions of journalists. The best interest principle should always be considered above any other interests including public interest.

Written By Tumelo Hlaka

Edited by Ntombifuthi Kubeka

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