We have taken Cherise to a counsellor and she is getting better. But she is scared of police officers. Whenever she sees a police car, she looks for her dad and starts crying hysterically.”
The above quote is an excerpt from a News24 article, originally published in Rapport, describing the trauma experienced by a three-year-old girl following an overnight prison cell lock-up with her father who was arrested for drunk driving. According to the article the police refused to take the child home or allow the father to make a call.
The article, “Girl, 3, locked in police cell” (03/02/2013) quoted a police spokesperson who stated that locking up a child is illegal and the journalist mentioned that the father has since laid a charge against the police. The three-year-old girl in question, now a witness in a criminal investigation, was identified in the News24 article by name, and in a photograph. For failing to take into consideration the best interests of the child, the article has been nominated for a MAD.
Even if the journalist felt that by identifying the girl and reporting on the harm that was caused to her they were exposing injustice, identifying the child in a criminal case puts her in possible danger and further harm. It is unclear whether the father gave parental consent for the child to be identified, but regardless, the journalist should have exercised caution and protected the girl’s identity. As stipulated under section 8 of the Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media:
“If you want to name or show a child, make sure you are allowed to do so by law [and] even if a child’s caregiver consents to disclosure of the identity of a child, a journalist must exercise a cautious discretion, as it may nevertheless be harmful to the child to publish the identity of the child.”
MMA thus strongly encourages journalists to consider the best interests of children whenever they are reporting on them.