The right for children to express themselves in media is one of the most violated, as children are rarely given opportunities to express how they feel or what they think about issues that affect them. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA)’s research has found that the media often let adults speak on behalf of children in stories about children.
The right to speak is supported by Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which South Africa ratified in 1995. The Convention stipulates that “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”
MMA gives a Missed Opportunity to Sowetan for its article, “Matric dance reinvented” (18/10/2018, p.10), because the article failed to promote the right of children to express themselves. The report is about pupils from Iketsetseng Secondary School in the Free State who went to their matric dance wearing their school uniform in place of dresses and suits. This is reported to have come after the school management realised that majority of the grade 12 learners were unable to participate in the matric dance as they could not afford to buy expensive dresses and suits due to financial challenges.
The story’s only source is the principal of the school and not one of 235 pupils said to have attended the party. A picture of smiling pupils accompanies the story. This article is indeed a classical example of how easily media infringe on children’s rights to be heard, which leads to further marginalisation of children in society as not accessing them might, among other things, perpetuate the stereotype that children are not important.
MMA strongly encourages journalists to challenge all stereotypes about children especially the ones that suggest that children are passive members of society. Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media developed by MMA with input from media and children emphasise that reporters must “challenge negative stereotypes about children and conventional roles children occupy in the media”.
The Guidelines on page 3 also go on to advise journalists saying, “Children have a right to have their views heard on matters that affect them, so try and include them.”
Media have a responsibility to let children express themselves in stories about them when in their best interest as this not only promotes their right to speak but also enriches stories with their perspectives.
MMA would like to encourage Sowetan and the media in general to continue covering a diversity of issues that affect children and to access the children whenever doing so will not cause them any harm.
By Ntsako Manganyi
A missed opportunity is a story in which children were not accessed for their views when they could have been