GroundUp and News24 missed an opportunity[1] for great stories because they failed to give children a voice in stories that involve the children. Not accessing children for their views in issues about them robs the children of an opportunity to contribute to debates/discussion and solutions to issues that affect them. This is also disempowering to the children.

GroudUp’s article, “Learners picket against government scrapping deadlines to fix schools” (08/07/2022) is about learners and members of  Equal Education protesting outside the Department of Education offices in Pretoria. The protest came after the government announced “amendments to the minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure”.

The story above fails to give a voice to the children who are firstly, part of the protests. This, despite the fact that the children are photographed during the protest indicating that the journalist had access to them. Secondly, the journalist makes no effort to access any learner who is or might be affected by the cancellation of the deadline by the Department of Education.

Similarly, News24’s article, “Activists protest against plans to remove deadlines for infrastructure improvements at schools” (08/07/2022) which also reports about the protests on amendments to the minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure, also fails to access children. While the article does not report that the learners were involved in the protest, an opportunity was still missed to enrich the story with children’s perspectives.

MMA is of the view that if the media are going to report stories that have a central focus on children, then the children must be extensively quoted to share their perspectives. Of course, this must be done only when it is in the children’s best interest to speak.  In the stories above, it was in the children’s best interest to share their views, especially that this issue directly affects their right to education.

The failure to include children’s voices to stories about the children when it is in their best interests goes against best journalism practice when it comes to reporting on children. MMA’s Ethical Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media, for instance, advise journalists stating, “Children have a right to have their views heard on matters that affect them, so try and include them.”

MMA urges both GroundUp and News24 to continue reporting on stories about children but to ensure that children are afforded an opportunity to express their views, feelings and experiences as long as doing so does not expose them to harm, including potential harm.

Written by Musa Rikhotso

Edited by Lister Namumba

[1] A missed opportunity is a story in which, for instance, children should have been accessed but are not.