News24 spurns chance to include children’s views.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) notes with concern the failure by News24 to include the voice of a child in a story about a matter that directly affects their lived experience. As a result of this, News24 missed an opportunity[1] to not only empower the child but also enrich the story with the child’s perspectives.

The article casts a lens on education and child safety in schools. And the reporter does a commendable job of expounding upon the key issues impacting children’s rights by giving ample context to a tragic event that is at the heart of this story.

The story, however, spurns the opportunity to incorporate the views of children in a subject matter that directly affects their rights to dignity, protection, and safe schooling environments that are conducive to learning and development.

The article titled, “The toilets have nothing to do with the dead four-year-old found in one, education department insists” (News24,11/03/2023) details how the Department of Basic Education (DBE) absolves itself from responsibility for the death of a four-year-old learner found lifeless in a pit latrine at one of its schools in the Eastern Cape.   

While the article mentions reports the death of the four-year-old, the focus of the story is rather on the issue of pit latrines in schools. Comment from the commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission is augmented with references to the relevant regulatory frameworks and analysis around pit latrines in schools, supplied by researchers from the lobby group Equal Education. A joint statement from the Centre for Child Law and Section 27 is also cited giving further context to a complex issue.

This is balanced against commentary from DBE authorities who are given the right of reply, a staple in any form of good reporting according to section 1.8 of the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media.[2] The pertinent facts underpinning the issue are stated and mapped out for the reader, making the story palatable even to the most uninformed members of society.

Notwithstanding the good journalism just alluded to, critically, the fundamental opportunity to include the views of children is missed in an article that speaks to core issues concerning them.  South Africa is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC),[3] which states in Article 12 that “the child who is capable of forming his or her own views must be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting the child”. Thus, including a quote from a learner or a child rights activist would have elevated the article from the realm of good reportage to that of great journalism.

MMA encourages journalists to ensure that they reverence the right of children to participate in matters that affect them.

MMA reaffirms its call to action issued in its Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media[4] which state, “Children have the right to have their views heard in matters that affect them, so try and include them…the way in which the media represent or even ignore children can influence decisions taken on their behalf, and how the rest of society regards children.”

The MMA would like to encourage News24 to continue practicing ethical reportage that is congruent with ethical frameworks around reporting on children, and always to remember to include children’s views particularly in matters affecting their rights and daily experiences as long as doing so does not subject the children to potential further harm.

Written by Tumelo Hlaka

Edited by Ntombifuthi Kubeka

[1] A missed opportunity is a story in which children should have been accessed but were not.