The article “Starving before school-going age” (Saturday Star, 01/10/2011, p.11) by Sheree Bega was selected as a GLAD because it proactively focused on a concerning issue relevant to children of pre-school going age.

More often than not, the media’s coverage on issues relevant to children tends to be reactive and is thus events-driven, based upon negative incidents that have affected them in a bad way. However, this article provides extensive and balanced views, which inform readers about the issues affecting pre-school children in the societies in which they live.

What is particularly pleasing is that the journalist sought the added viewpoints of an expert as well as a government representative. This is important because for various reasons, when the media report on negative issues affecting society, government voices are often inadvertently – or deliberately perhaps – not sought for a variety of reasons ranging from difficulty in accessing government officials, to time and space constraints.

Importantly though, it should be borne in mind that when relying upon the viewpoints of experts and government alone, the media run the risk of shaping, framing and patterning coverage on issues of this nature. Relying on ‘official’ sources has the potential to divert the media from the need to access alternative voices because the assumption may be made that ‘official’ perspectives are uncontested. Thus sole reliance on ‘official’ sources functions to limit the depth of investigations and search for relevant new sources for stories.

In this particular article, it is clear that Sheree Bega attended a presentation titled “Unhealthy childhoods: a prescription for school underperformance” made by Professor Salojee head of the Division of Community Paediatrics at Wits University.  Bega provides a series of informative quotes made by the professor.

Salojee suggests that, a case of “double jeopardy” exists in South Africa, in that children in the poorest of schools who receive a “lousy education” are in fact disadvantaged in their formative early-growth years before they even start their schooling careers. He suggests that the primary reason for this may be ascribed to malnutrition and similar nutrition-related causes.

He further states that “for many children from the poorest communities in South Africa, their bleak educational outlook starts in the womb.”  He argues that their mothers may also be suffering from malnourishment, infections, hypertension or even smoke and drink despite being pregnant.

Salojee also focused on policy, highlighting the fact that school feeding programmes do not cater for pre-schoolers attending crèches and early childhood development centres. He recommends that plans for growth and extension of nutritional support programmes ought to be turned in the direction of pre-schoolers and away from the current direction that brings nutritional programmes to pupils in high school.

Finally, to round off the piece, an accompanying bar adjoins the report. In it, a few additional “sobering stats” have been listed in an easy to read format. This served well to provide contextual facts that were sourced from three reports namely Child Gauge 2010, the General Household Survey 2009 and the Census 2001.

Although, with stories of this nature, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) would ideally like to see several more sources being quoted – including ‘ordinary’ citizens – in a bid to bring a well-rounded balance to stories such as this, we are nevertheless happy to see that this particular story with a focus on children from Saturday Star.

MMA congratulates the journalist for writing the piece, as well as to the Saturday Star for publishing such a valuable story that one would hope, will make a pre-emptive difference to the lives of many children before they enter the schooling system.