Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is proud to award News24 and IOL a GLAD[1] for reporting ethically on children by withholding their identities in stories on abuse.

The stories for which the two media are being awarded a GLAD are titled, “Principal suspended for forcing pupil into pit toilet to search for missing cell phone” (News24, 15/03/2021), “Step dad in court for allegedly impregnating 13-year-old Northern Cape girl”, (IOL, 12/03/2021) and “Man loses appeal against life sentence for raping stepdaughter”, (IOL, 16/03/2021).

The first article, “Principal suspended for forcing pupil into pit toilet to search for missing cell phone” (News24, 15/03/2021) is written by Malibongwe Dayimani and is about an 11-year old pupil who was reportedly lowered down a pit toilet to retrieve his principal’s cell phone that had fallen in the pit latrine. The article mentions how the child was covered in faeces and seen by his fellow learners and that as a result of this, the child was “ashamed to attend classes”.  According to the article, the child was “knee-deep in human waste, using his hands to search for the cell phone, to no avail.”

The child, his sister and grandmother are not identified and the article mentions that this has been done to protect the identity of the child.

Article two, “Step dad in court for allegedly impregnating 13-year-old Northern Cape girl”, (IOL, 12/03/2021) is written by Benida Phillips andis about a 13-year old girl who was allegedly raped and impregnated by her step father. According to the article, the girl in the presence of her mother had told police that she had been sexually abused since the age of six. The article also mentions that the child was confirmed 20 weeks pregnant at 12 years old.”

This article is accompanied by a statement saying that the stepfather “cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the child”.

The third article is also from IOL and is written by Athandile Siyo. “Man loses appeal against life sentence for raping stepdaughter” (16/03/2021) is about a 56-year-old man who is reported to have lost an appeal against his life sentence for raping and sexual assaulting his stepdaughter from 2006 when she was seven years old. Just as is the case with the articles above, this article also does not identify the child directly or otherwise.

In addition to withholding the children’s identities, all the three journalists ensured that the children were not interviewed about their traumatic experiences and we applaud them for that. Interviewing children about their traumatic ordeals before they have undergone counselling might subject them to potential secondary trauma and might also lengthen their healing process.

All three articles sufficiently protected the best interest of the children involved by making sure that they don’t identify them. The articles included reasons for not identifying the children, something that differentiates such articles from expected standards of reporting on children.

It is very important for the media to withhold the identities of children in these circumstances because it may cause harm such as victimisation, discrimination and retribution to the children.

MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media[2] urge the media to “always hide a child’s identity where the child might be at risk.” We applaud News24 and IOL for adhering to this.

We look forward to reading more of such stories that indicate and make it clear the importance of not identifying minors when they are victims of abuse or potential witnesses at criminal proceedings.  Well done!

By Baatile Mohale

[1] GLADs are awarded to media for responsible and ethical reporting on children