The recently released new press code now has a children’s section that specifies guidelines on how to better report on them. Article 8.3 states that the “press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime, unless a public interest is evident and it is in the best interests of the child.”
Recently, The New Age, violated this section of the code in at least three separate articles, by identifying a child in cases where it was not in their best interests. Not only did the articles compromise the safety of some of the identified children, but they have infringed on their right to privacy and dignity. For this reason, the articles published by The New Age have been nominated by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) as deserving of a MAD.
The first article in question, “HRC probes Hindu claim” (24/10/2012, p. 2) identified by name, a Grade 3 pupil who has been a victim of “racial and religious discrimination” inflicted by his teacher. The young pupil was discriminated against and harassed for “wearing the sacred Hindu red string (Kavala) around his wrist.” By identifying this pupil, the article has encroached on his right to privacy and dignity, as well as potentially exposing him to further discrimination.
The second article, “Gang violence turns ugly in Botshabelo” (23/10/2012, p. 9) indirectly identifies a child who is a witness to a crime, and by extension a victim of trauma. The mother of the child, and sister of the man murdered by gang members, is fully identified in the article and quoted saying, “I was with my children when the incident happened and managed by all means to protect them. My 14-year old son was even taken out of school because of the trauma he experienced.” As a witness to a crime, this child’s identification by the paper has compromised his safety and puts him in danger of being victimised by the gang member who may be afraid the child will identify them as perpetrators of the murder.
In the third article, “No end to school crisis” (24/10/2012, p. 25), an attempt was made to conceal the identities of children shown in the accompanying photograph drinking alcohol, by covering their eyes with a black strip. This method, however, is insufficient and considering the fact that the article identifies the school in question, the pupils in the photograph can as easily be recognised by fellow pupils, teachers and community
Before the completion of this analysis, The New Age committed the same mistake as that discussed in the above paragraph. In a follow-up article, titled “Olifantshoek investigation still under way”(8/11/2012, p. 26), a group of children drinking alcohol are shown in a photograph with strips over their eyes, in an attempt to protect their identities. As noted in reference to the original article, this form of identity protection is insufficient. Whenever possible the media should try to photograph children in creative ways that protect their identities.
On an ongoing basis, through the MADOAT project, MMA is encouraging and helping journalists to better report on children. It is crucial that journalists understand the importance of protecting the identities of children when necessary, as outlined in the press code.