Mainstream media have given extensive coverage to the alleged initiation and rape incident that happened at the Northern Cape Agricultural School. Sadly, some of them in their coverage, most of which took place from the 6th of February 2015, violated the rights of the victim as well as the alleged perpetrators and witnesses to this incident. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) would like to remind all media houses that this case does not only involve ethical considerations but also a range of criminal offences. MMA understands the importance of the story, and fully supports that it is covered.
Revealing either directly or indirectly the identities of those involved is not only unethical, but it is also clearly not in the best interests of the children and those involved, and it also constitute clear breaches of the law and the South African Press Code.
We note that some media have reported the incident diligently and in a manner that respects the rights to dignity and privacy of all parties.
There appears to be a lack of clarity on the age of the victim. With some media suggesting he is a child (i.e. under 18) and others reporting that he is 18-years of age. In any event, the indirect identification of the victim is at best unethical. Given that the victim is clearly traumatised by the events, exposing him to further harm through identification constitutes secondary trauma.
City Press yesterday on its lead story, (08/02/2015) quotes the mother of the victim as saying: “I don’t know why this has happened and I’m even more hurt that my sons picture has been splashed all over the papers. The ordeal was enough for him. He wanted to come out and tell his story to warn other children, but now this whole thing has been turned around. I don’t know what to do and I need to be strong for him.”
MMA strongly believes further that that there is no journalistic imperative, or public interest realised in identifying the alleged perpetrators. Many mainstream media have completely ignored important ethical standards that require them to minimise harm when reporting on issues such as this. The media is obligated to report on such issues without creating or escalating the trauma (on either the victim or alleged perpetrators) of those involved and must exercise additional caution and care when they involve children as they do in this case.
Secondly, aside from the ethical obligations, the coverage of this incident has sadly exposed the media’s total disregard of the law. Not only is indentifying any child that is a victim, witness or perpetrator in a crime unethical it is also a contravention of Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act which protects children who are victims of or accused of crime or are witnesses of a crime.
In some cases the media also carried stills and edited versions of the video. The incident involves the assault and rape of a child, by a series of offenders including two under the age of 18. Even if it emerges that the survivor is 18 or older, that it occurred with child offenders or witnesses means the incident constitute a form of child pornography and as such constitutes a breach of the Films & Publication Act 65 of 1996. Anyone therefore watching, or forwarding the video may be guilty of the crime of possession of child pornography – by having it on a device and or distribution by sending the link onward.
Social media and some reporting have already unpacked the complexity of an incident such as this, including analysing the racial and gender dimensions. It is crucial the issues are fleshed out and explanations are provided. The causes, responses, and issue of accountability are more useful points of emphasis of the story than seemingly prurient revelations of the identities of those involved.
We have deliberately sought not to highlight the titles of those who have failed the children involved, as we are currently working with them to seek constructive ways forward. We are also working with relevant children’s sector experts and NGOs to ensure that the requisite action is taken. MMA would like to call on the news media organisations to not in any way directly or indirectly identify all parties involved in this horrific incident.
For More information please contact:
William Bird, Director, MMA – Tel: 011 788 1278, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kgalalelo Morwe, Editor: Children’s Project – Tel 011 788 1278, E-mail: email@example.com
Carol Mohlala, Researcher: Policy Unity- Tel 011 788 1278, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday Times reported the incident without naming or photographing the boys, see article here:http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/02/08/mop-handle-rapists-should-be-expelled-1