The Citizen and CNS have violated the rights to dignity and privacy of a teenager who was allegedly assaulted by the police for loitering. The story, titled “Mad over cop hiding” (The Citizen, 29/05/09, p. 81), by news agency CNS, showed a picture of the teenager’s bruised buttocks with his name and age written in the caption. While the article was provided by an agency, both the agency and the newspaper share responsibilities for ensuring that children’s rights are protected.
By publishing the boy’s name, surname and age, as well as the name and surname of his mother, the story violates the boy’s right to privacy. This is problematic both legally and ethically.
The story reveals that a case of assault had been opened against the police officers who assaulted the boy and his friend. The law is clear that his identity should not be revealed. Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 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”.
In the future, The Citizen and CNS need to be careful about revealing names of children who will potentially appear in court.
It is also not in the best interest of the child for his personal details to have been published in the newspaper. In circumstances like this, direct or indirect identification of children in the media puts them in potential danger of being victimised by their accused, accused’s’ family members or friends, or people that might sympathise with the accused.
The other serious violation committed in this story was showing the picture of the teenager’s bruised buttocks. The Citizen, by publishing this picture, and the agency by making it available, have violated his right to dignity, particularly given that the boy’s name is provided in accompanying caption.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) would argue that the photograph is not necessary in telling the story. The picture is invasive and in the long run may expose him to teasing by peers, and be cause for embarrassment.The photograph is also problematic because it exposes the child’s naked buttocks.
According to the Press Code, a photograph like this could be interpreted as child pornography as it show a private part of a child’s body, which could be used for purposes of sexual exploitation. It states:
“For purposes of this Code (The SA Press Code), ‘child pornography’ shall mean: Any image or any description of a person, real or simulated, who is or who is depicted or described as being, under the age of 18 years, engaged in sexual conduct; participating in or assisting another person to participate in sexual conduct; or showing or describing the body or parts of the body of the person in a manner or circumstances which, in context, amounts to sexual exploitation, or in a manner capable of being used for purposes of sexual exploitation.” [own italics].
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007 would not regard the photograph as pornography. This is because of the emphasis placed on reason for publication. The Act is worded similarly to the Press Code, but also stipulates, “Images or descriptions which are neither sexual in nature nor capable of being used for the purpose of sexual exploitation would not amount to child pornography”.
Even though the Press Code and the law might read the photograph differently, it would have been better for The Citizen not to publish the photograph as a matter of good ethics and for the sake of protecting the child’s rights to dignity and privacy.
It would have been sufficient to provide a written description of the kind of injury incurred by the teenager without showing the picture. Care would need be to be taken in the language used, to ensure that the description did not violate his right to dignity. Omitting identifying details would have helped to ensure protection of dignity. Adding the picture to the story only serves to shock the public it does nothing in terms of serving the public’s right to access of information.
The article does not explain whether or not police brutality in Brakpan is a big problem. Readers might, for example, wonder why loitering is an offense and why the police were so brutal on the boys for something that might seem to be a minor issue. Analysis of these areas would give context and better fulfil the media’s role of serving the public by informing them.
MMA’s analysis is that the story was essential to tell because it exposed police brutality and misconduct. However, the manner in which the story was reported was sensational and failed dismally to give context to the incident. Most importantly, however, both the newspaper and agency should have protected the child’s rights to privacy and dignity by not naming him or publishing such an invasive picture.
1Due to legal and ethical considerations, MMA has concealed, in the article and picture, depiction of the child’s buttocks, and any identifying details.