The identity of an actor accused of sexually assaulting his four-year-old daughter was indirectly revealed in an article published by Sowetan, further leading to the indirect identification of the child – a victim to the alleged crime. This happened despite the fact that Sowetan explicitly stated that the actor cannot be named in order to protect the child’s identity.

The identity of the child was initially and indirectly revealed in the first article published by Sowetanon the story entitled, “Actor ‘abused’ kid,” (05/01/2010, p.4). The article gave away unnecessary details which made it easy to identify the actor. “The man, 45, is a former actor in [the name of soapie and its broadcaster]” it stated. It went on to give more information about the prominent actor stating he is Zimbabwean born and that he, “at present features in several adverts and does voice-overs on [name of radio station].”

This goes against Avusa’s guidelines which Sowetan is bound by, and which state that Avusa newspapers “will always protect the identities of children who have been victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse or exploitation; and those who have been charged or convicted of a crime or been a witness to a crime.”

In addition the guidelines state that Avusa, “recognise(s) that children’s rights to privacy and dignity deserve the highest degree of protection, and (they) undertake to respect these rights in every situation. (Avusa) will maintain the highest possible ethical standards in reporting on children.”

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA)’s guidelines also state that “In all stories in which a child has been involved in a crime either as a witness, victim or perpetrator, unless exceptional circumstances prevail and then only if there is informed consent from the child involved and the child’s caregiver, the child’s identity will not be revealed either directly or indirectly.”

The guidelines further explain that identifying a child “means to provide the child’s name, or information about where the child lives, what school the child attends, or any other indirect means where a child may be recognised by people who know the child.” They go on to advise journalists that “in all stories where identifying the child may cause harm be sure to avoid indirect identification of the child through showing family, a school, residence friends or a combination thereof.”

It was also clear from comments posted by readers on Sowetan’s website in response to the story that the paper had not done enough to protect the child from being indirectly identified. “If I have my facts right this is [name of actor] best known as [name of character played] in the [name of soapie]. He should be ashamed of himself” read one of the comments.

Another reader also linked the details provided by the newspaper to identify the suspect: “Am with you on that… [name of actor] was the one who went AWOL on [name of soapie] some time ago and that’s why they had to let him go and he’s also a Zimbabwean citizen.”

MMA stresses the importance for the protection of children and their best interests as expressed inAvusa’s guidelines.

Children who have been victims of a crime should not be subjected to further trauma which may result from being identified in the media.

We urge Sowetan to prioritise children’s rights in the New Year.