When reporting stories about crime against children, media often choose to neglect children’s rights. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) applauds the efforts to highlight crimes against children, however, this must be done with the utmost respect for children’s rights so as not to compromise their safety or cause them any other harm. The Times failed to ensure this hence MMA giving the publication a MADfor an article titled, “Tragic end to vicious prank” (The Times, 10/01/2017, p2).
The story is about a 12-year-old boy from Port Elizabeth who was severely injured when a firecracker exploded in his face after it was offered to him by three young men. The men had disguised the firecracker as a cigarette and within a short time of lighting it, the cracker exploded causing him severe facial wounds and burns. According to the article, the boy is in hospital in pain and unable to speak. The story also reports that the police are investigating the three men for assault with intent to cause bodily harm, a charge which might be escalated to that of attempted murder.
In the story, The Times names the child, his school and both his grandparents who are his guardians. He and his grandmother are also shown in a colour photograph showing his wounds. The child is also interviewed. MMA frowns upon interviewing children who have recently experienced trauma as this subjects them to further trauma as they are forced to relive the moments of hurt.
As the child is a victim of abuse and a potential witness to the crime, the manner in which the story is reported grossly violates the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3) which 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.” Identifying the child in this story directly and through his grandparents and school puts him at risk of suffering further harm and/or intimidation.
The code of ethics and conduct for South African print and online media was also contravened. The Code in Section 8.1.1 states that “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 is evident.
The Times also violated its own Editorial policy which stipulates, “We will always protect the identities of children who have been victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse or exploitation; and those who have been charged or convicted of a crime or been a witness to a crime
In addition, the article fails to highlight whether fully informed consent was obtained and whether the potential consequences of having the story told were explained to the child and/or his guardians. The Times policy states, “When we take photographs of children in situations where they may be embarrassed or vulnerable, we will, in all possible situations, do so with the knowledge and consent of the children and/or their guardians. We undertake to consult the child’s guardian about the impact our stories may have on the child’s life”.
It is clear that The Times has neglected to prioritise the best interests of the child involved in the story as they rightly undertake to do so in their policy. MMA urges the publication to ensure that their future reporting on children is in accordance with available ethical and legal frameworks protecting children.
By Musa Rikhotso
 A MAD is given to a media house for an article on children where the journalist reports irresponsibly by violating children’s rights