Sowetan is brought to task by the Media Monitoring Project (MMP) for poor reporting on a crime against a child. “’Racist’ teacher assaults pupil” (25/09/08, p.8) fails on all accounts to protect the identity of a young victim of an alleged racist assault by his teacher. In doing so, it flouts legal requirements and exposes him to further harm.

The story recounts how a child of 15 was subject to racial abuse and physical assault by one of his teachers. It also provides information on how, according to the child’s father, a police officer called in by the school responded.

Of significant concern to MMP is that the article provides a clearly identifiable picture of the child, together with his full name and name of the school where the alleged assault occurred. The child’s father is also named, which would also indirectly identify the child regardless of any other details.

MMP articulates these concerns on both legal and ethical grounds.

According to law, as a charge has been laid against the teacher, the child is a witness to an act committed against him and so cannot be identified. The Criminal Procedure Act, Section 154(3), clearly states: “No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18 years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”

Ethically, it is irresponsible of the paper to identify the child, directly or indirectly. Identification, including the naming of the teacher and the school where the alleged assault took place, may result in further victimisation of the child.

We are unaware of the school’s response to this incident and whether or not the teacher continues to teach at the school and teach the child.

It is possible that by bringing the incident to the press, the child could be the target of retribution by the teacher, school and police, as well as teasing and other forms of abuse by peers. Further victimisation of this child is facilitated by his complete identification, together with the details of the racist and abusive language used against him.

While the child’s parent, and even the child, may have taken a considered decision to allow names to be revealed, this is not explained in the article, and it is still not clearly in the child’s best interests. Either way, as the incident has now become part of criminal proceedings, the law is clear on revealing identities.

MMP stresses the importance of reporting on racism, particularly in South African schools, where children should be provided with a safe environment that fosters education and tolerance. Unfortunately, this Sowetan article undermines the purpose and value of such reporting – to educate the public and facilitate justice – by failing to protect the child’s best interests and subjecting him to further victimisation. MMP hopes that Sowetan takes note of the legal and ethical principles in reporting on children, and demonstrates them in future articles.

NB. To see a PDF version of the article, click here. MMP has concealed details, such as names and the faces of child victims, to protect their identities.