Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is concerned that on two occasions during the month of October,SABC indirectly identified vulnerable children when it was not in their best interests to do so. In both cases the children were in such vulnerable positions that they were entitled to special legal protection. While SABC made some efforts to protect the identities of the children involved, these did not go far enough and were undermined by the inclusion of details about other family members that made these children readily identifiable.

Khumbul’ekhaya, a reality television show on SABC 1 on Wednesdays at 9pm, gets a MAD from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for indirectly identifying a child rape victim on 6 October 2010.

The story was about a father who was looking for his daughter. The programme reported that the daughter had been left with a friend by her mother. It also alleged that her mother was mentally ill.  The child was also allegedly raped following her disappearance.

The child in question was indirectly identified, as Khumbul’ekhaya named both parents and showed where the child lived and who she had lived with. It also showed pictures of the child in which the child was identifiable.

The South African Constitution (Article 28.2) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 3) both make it clear that “in all actions concerning children…the best interest of the child should be primary consideration” . This story was not in the best interest of the child. In fact Khumbul’ekhaya’s reporting may result in this young girl suffering further trauma and victimisation because of the stigma attached to rape or even to having a parent with a mental disability.

The child is not only a victim, but she is also potentially a witness in a criminal case. Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act states that
“No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity…of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years”.
By identifying the child in anyway Khumbul’ekhaya has violated the Criminal Procedure Act. It also reported her story in a way that may jeopardise a case, if and when it goes to court.

The decision by Khumbul’ ekhaya not to name the child was not enough, because the programme did other things that made her easily identifiable. Those who live in the same neighbourhood as the child, those who know her parents or who recognise her from her picture will be able to identify this child.

MMA is also concerned about the identification of abandoned children by SABC 3’s primetime news programme. On 21 October 2010, the programme carried a report as part of its “Touching Lives” outreach initiative on abandoned siblings – an 18 year old, a teenage girl and twin boys, aged 7 on 21 October 2010.  The programme failed to make it clear exactly what age the teenager was, but there is a strong possibility that she was under 18, as she was wearing a school uniform.

According to the report, the children were abandoned by their mother. The “teenager” then took over the role of head-of-household by looking after and supporting her 18-year-old brother and the 7-year-old twins reportedly “on the R600 grant she receives for her child.”

The mother then returned – after an unspecified period – to “assume the responsibility she had once abdicated.”

The mother, teenager and 18-year-old were identified, resulting in the two young boys being indirectly identified. This was not in their best interests as child abandonment constitutes child neglect and is a form of abuse. The children were therefore victims of abuse and should not have been identified in the media as it was not in their best interests. They are also witnesses to the crime of child abandonment and are consequently entitled to protection under the Criminal Procedure Act.

MMA is aware that SABC made efforts to hide the identity of the two young boys. Where the boys appeared during the report, they had their backs to the camera, presumably so they could not be identified by the viewer. However this was undermined by the identification of their mother, brother and sister, who may also have been entitled to protection in her own right, if she is younger than 18.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s guidelines on reporting on children state that: “In interviewing and reporting on children, special attention is to be paid to each child’s right to privacy and confidentiality, to have their opinions heard, to participate in decisions affecting them and to be protected from harm and retribution, including the potential of harm and retribution.”

It is all the more regrettable that two programmes that aim to help people failed to uphold the dignity and privacy of vulnerable children in a manner that could make their situations worse rather than better. MMA urges SABC to avoid causing further harm and to exercise caution when reporting sensitive stories by ensuring that at all times, the best interests of the children involved are paramount.