Two articles titled, “Parent opens case over ‘bullying’” (Dispatchlive, 29-09-2018) and “Injured pupil to have second brain surgery” (Sowetan, 25-09-2018, p.2) have been given a MAD by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for identifying the children involved who are victims and witnesses to crimes.
The first article, “Parent opens case over ‘bullying’” by Dispatchlive is about a mother who reportedly “claims that her child was bullied by pupils and some teachers at her school” with the recent incident being that of a teacher allegedly hitting her child on the head with a broom. The article further reports that the mother has “opened a case of common assault with the police”. The mother of the child whose age has not been revealed is identified in the article which thereby indirectly identifies her child.
The second article, “Injured pupil to have second brain surgery” by Sowetan reports about a pupil who was allegedly assaulted by a teacher for “allegedly having in his possession a cap on school premises”. The article reports that the teacher hit the child’s head against a wall resulting in him temporarily losing his speech and having blood on his brain. In this article, the child’s identity is directly revealed and indirectly so through his mother. Just as is the case with the story above byDispatchlive, the name of the school the child attends and his grade are also revealed in this article.
Identifying the two abused children was unethical and both Sowetan and Dispatchlive violated the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media. Section 8.1.3 of the Code states, “[The media shall] not identify children who have been victims of abuse … without the consent of their legal guardians (or a similarly responsible adult) and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child), a public interest is evident and it is in the best interests of the child.”
Identifying the children was not in their best interests and neither of the stories mentions that informed consent to identify the children directly or otherwise was sought from both the children and their parents. MMA argues though that even if informed consent is given, it is the journalist’s duty to gauge whether revealing the identity of the child is in the child’s best interest as supported by Section 28(2) of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution.
Additionally, there was no clear public interest in the story and MMA believes the impact of the stories would still have been there even without the direct and/or indirect identification of the children.
Considering that a case has reportedly been opened at the police station in both articles, the two children might be witnesses at criminal proceedings. Therefore, revealing their identities violated the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3) which was recently ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal to read, “No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”
Identifying the two children in both stories not only compromised their safety as they might be harmed for retribution or to keep them from testifying, but might also have potentially subjected them to victimisation and intimidation.
We are requesting Dispatchlive to withdraw the identity of the child’s mother from their website and instead use a pseudonym to protect the child. We also request that an explanation be given to the media’s audience as to why the decision to withdraw the parent’s identity was taken.
MMA urges Sowetan and Dispatchlive to be more considerate in future when reporting about children who are victims of abuse and who are potential witnesses at criminal proceedings. We look forward to reading stories that are ethically reported and support the children’s best interests.
By Msizi Mzolo
 MADs refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage