Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD1 to the Sowetan for its article, “Pupil loses testicle”, (30/07/2013 p. 5), for being ambiguous in this reporting and for not adhering to ethical standards by identifying a child who is a victim of a crime and may still be a witness in the future.
The article describes the ordeal of a Grade 10 pupil who was allegedly badly assaulted by his teacher that one of his testicles had to be removed. The journalist informs the reader that the teacher was let off of the charges laid against him due to a lack of evidence, and that the victim would like to appeal this case.
This article gives the reader confusing messages because in the fifth paragraph it stated that the teacher was acquitted and then in the sixth paragraph it noted that the case was dismissed. It is not clear whether the accused was acquitted or the case dismissed? Acquittal and dismissal mean two different things and have different legal implications. If the accused was acquitted it means that there may be no right to appeal however if the case was dismissed it means that there still exists an opportunity for the victim to appeal or for the case to be re-instated at a later stage.2 The article’s inconsistent use of terminology could possibly misinform and confuse the readers. Nonetheless, it was important to protect the child either way as he is a victim and a witness to a criminal case.
The article also does a disservice to the readers by merely stating that the case was ‘dismissed’ due to a lack of evidence. The journalist seemingly makes no attempt to specify the real causes behind the ‘dismissal’ or acquittal’. She should have probed further to find out why there was a lack of evidence and what sort of evidence was lacking in this matter. This would have given the reader a fuller picture of the turn of events.
Ethically, the journalist breached MMA’s code of ethics3 by interviewing the child and identifying him. She should not have interviewed the child as he is a victim of abuse and talking about the event could further traumatise him. Furthermore, it is not in the best interests of the child as he could be ridiculed and made fun of. According to Carol Bews of Child Welfare, children should only have to tell their story once, “when a child has been traumatised it is traumatic for the child to have to tell his/her story over and over again to different people”. She further states that being abused or bullied can result in low self-esteem which could lead to depression, or even suicide.
As this article is clearly not in the best interests of the child due to the many repercussions stated above, it was also not necessary to name the child in this story. MMA feels that the same story could have been told with the same impact felt without identifying the child.
The picture that accompanies the article also raises our concerns. Although the caption clearly names the victim’s parents and the community leader and vaguely omits naming the fourth person in the picture. The impression given is that the latter is the victim as he is young and is standing in close proximity to his parents. Again, not only might this be confusing to the reader but it is simply contrary to the principles of ethical reporting, it is imperative in such stories that the victim is not identified.
MMA encourages the Sowetan to protect child victims in all their stories and to always be careful when relaying information which could negatively affect public perceptions around issues that affect children.
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.To read more on the difference between acquittal and dismissal please click here↩
3. MMA ‘s ethical guidelines for reporting on children are endorsed by Sanef and were developed to assist journalists and media practitioners to produce better-quality reporting on children, They are available here: https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/images/uploads/A5_Booklet_final_lowres_01.pdf↩