The SABC’s Full View on 19 September, 2020 aired a story/interview wherein at least 12 minors are alleged to have been sexually violated by an unidentified man near Rustenburg. Unfortunately, the story/clip contravened accepted journalistic standards when reporting on children in that the children involved were interviewed. It is for this reason that Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) selects it as a MAD.[1]

The show reports on a story about Lethabong residents near Rustenburg in the North West who are outraged following allegations that a foreign national sexually assaulted 12 young boys in the community.

The alleged suspect is said to have lured the boys to his place of employment, a local hardware store, showed them pornography before sexually assaulting them. According to the report, he was arrested and then released pending the completion of police investigations into the matter.

In carrying out its duty of gathering and publishing news content to the public, the public broadcaster overlooked an important ethical consideration when dealing with children in reportage when it accessed the underage boys.

This goes against the SABC’s very own editorial policy which was recently amended after 20 years and relaunched in August. Section 4.5.11 of the editorial policy document clearly stipulates,In the spirit of Section 28(2) of the Bill of Rights, the media shall exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest evident.”[2]

Given the traumatic nature of sexual violence for its victims and survivors – perhaps more so when they are still minors – interviewing them about the matter therefore is harmful in that it retraumatises the children. It is also believed to lengthen the healing process.

Furthermore, even though the public broadcaster did well to conceal the identities of the children, the matter is of a criminal nature meaning that they’ll have to testify further in a court of law. Therefore, speaking to the media could potentially influence the case to their disadvantage.

MMA’s editorial guidelines for reporting on children corroborates this by clearly stating that “in interviewing and reporting on children, special attention is to be paid to their right to privacy and confidentiality, to participate in decisions affecting them, and to be protected from harm and retribution, even potential harm and retribution.”[3]

As such, we impel and encourage the SABC, more so as a public service broadcaster, to thoroughly follow and stick to ethical journalistic guidelines, including and most importantly its own. This kind of reportage will thus ensure the safety and well-being of children, at least as it pertains to interviewing and representation.

We are confident that the SABC will consider the concerns raised and here on in strive to do better when reporting on matters pertaining and including children, as their protection and best interests are of utmost importance.

By Azola Dayile

[1]A MAD is given to the media for irresponsibly reporting on a child.