The media has a critical role in protecting the identity of children who are victims of abuse or violence. When they fail to do so, they compromise the children’s wellbeing. This is the reason why Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives News24 a MAD for an article reporting child abuse.
The article titled, “Eastern Cape man who assaulted his niece, leaving her in wheelchair, fined R500” (News24, 08/07/2021) talks about an Eastern Cape Magistrate Court that has come under attack for sentencing a man to 60 days in prison with an option of paying a R500 fine after he was found guilty of hitting his 10-year-old niece on the head with a stick.
The mother of the child says in the article that the child spent more than two months in hospital as a result of the abuse that her daughter endured. She further says that the abuse resulted in her child being unable to function or walk as the hit on her head severed a nerve that controls the limbs.
The reason why this article gets a MAD is because the child who is a victim of abuse, has been named contrary to what the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3) states. The Section warns against the direct and indirect identification of children who are accused of crime, are victims or are witnesses at criminal proceedings. This Section was ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018 to include the protection of victims.
In addition, News24 violated the Press Code and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media which advises against the identification or interview of children who are victims of abuse. Section 8.3 states, “In the spirit of Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights, the media shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse or exploitation…”
The journalist did not act in the best interests of the child as directly identifying the child potentially subjects them to harm such as stigma, victimisation and/or retribution etc. Further, the child might be harmed to keep them from testifying as they are potential witnesses at the criminal proceedings. The mother states in the article that she will appeal the sentence meaning this case might continue.
Further, indirectly and directly identifying the child is against MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media which state that,” Even where you are trying to tell people about harm to children or another children’s issue or promote children’s rights, you always need to respect the best interests of the individual child. The best interest of each child needs to be protected over any consideration.”
Additionally, by using the term “wheelchair-bound”, the journalist used a term that is not suitable for use according to the National Disability Authority. The independent statutory body advises, “When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Catch-all phrases such as ‘the blind’, ‘the deaf’ or ‘the disabled’, do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities.” MMA advises the journalist to consider using a phrase like, “person who uses a wheelchair” in place of “wheelchair-bound”.
We are kindly requesting that News24 withdraws the identities of the child, mother and accused uncle and rather use pseudonyms. Further, we are requesting that an explanation be given to readers as to why the decision to withdraw the identities was taken.
We look forward to seeing more ethical and responsible reporting on children.
Written by Msizi Mzolo
Edited by Lister Namumba
 MADs refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage
 http://22.214.171.124/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/mma_editorial_guideline.pdf (See page 2)
UPDATE: After a successful engagement between MMA and News24, the article was updated with pseudonyms and an editor’s note was added at the end of the article. The note offers an apology for revealing the identity of the child.