The Sowetan’s “‘Tata is a father figure in my life’” (18/07/2013, p.6) receives a MAD for exposing vulnerable children to potential harm.

The story reported on a group of children from children’s homes near Pretoria who on the eve of Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday went outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Mandela is receiving treatment to wish him a happy birthday.

The article revealed the name of the orphanages the children come from and published a photograph of the children holding placards. The journalist also named and interviewed some of the children who expressed what Nelson Mandela means to them. Despite the articles’ best intentions of seeking children’s voices, identifying the children causes more harm than good. Not only does it lower the children’s privacy but it also puts them at risk.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) wishes to remind the Sowetan that the children are vulnerable as they are from “places of safety” which innately admit children who are at risk due to neglect, abandonment and other various forms of abuse. In light of this, the children needed their identities to be protected. Furthermore, according to the Times Media Group policy for reporting on children, they pledge that their newspaper titles “will report in accordance with the Constitution and in appreciation of the vulnerable situation of children.”

They also state that “children’s rights to privacy and dignity deserve the highest degree of protection.” However, the Sowetan in this case failed to adhere to this ethical policy when they identified the children.

MMA would like to suggest that in future, the Sowetan be extremely careful when reporting on vulnerable children and ensure that their reporting does not expose them to potential harm.

By Musa Rikhotso