The article, “Shot pupil on the mend” (Sowetan, 18/02/2013, p.7) raises red flags on reporting on children in the media. The article awarded a MAD,1 bears testimony to the ethical and legal challenges that beset the media when reporting on children, and makes our work as Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), even more challenging. With that said, an unfortunate case of indirect identification can be a deterrent in the media’s, and particularly Sowetan’s efforts in setting a benchmark on ethical reporting on children.

We note with disappointment that Sowetan in its coverage of the story gave a bit more information than was necessary. In the article, the journalist explains the tragic ordeal of a 16-year-old boy, who was allegedly shot by a deputy principal.

The boy was reportedly abducted by scrap yard owner, a principal and his deputy at a local school and shot at by the deputy while trying to escape, after he was suspected of stealing a door and window handles from the school.  While the article does not name the boy, which is in line with basic journalism ethics, it names his father.

MMA takes into consideration the potential risks embedded in identifying a child in this manner. Firstly, the article informs the reader that a case of attempted murder has been opened. Which potentially means that the boy is a witness to the case, as such, requires protection in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.2

Secondly, indirectly identifying the child and also releasing the name of the hospital where he was admitted, puts him in harm’s way particularly harm from suspects who might want to threaten or intimidate the child.

To make matters worse the journalist indirectly quoted the boy who recalled and recounted what happened. Carol Bews, a child expert from Johannesburg Child Welfare, feels that it is wrong to interview children who have experienced traumatic events. “When a child has been traumatized it is traumatic for the child to have to tell his/her story over and over again to different people” she said.

We urge Sowetan to exercise caution and work towards protecting children and acting in their best interests.

1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”
2. Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act which states “No person shall publish whatever information that reveals 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