Research by Media Monitoring Africa, formerly Media Monitoring Project, suggests that children’s newsworthiness seems to be defined by the extreme and/or dramatic nature of stories (Media Monitoring Project, 2004:9)1. However, Sowetan‘s article “I won’t have to wear this blue helmet” by Namhla Tshisela, (Sowetan, 19/01/09, p. 6) presents a potentially dramatic story in a positive way, hence it deserves our MAD OAT glad nomination.
The article is about a seven-year-old boy, Felleng Mohamotse, who is to undergo a constructive surgery in Switzerland through Children of Fire, an organisation that arranges reconstructive surgery for children with serious burn injuries. The article is also accompanied by photographs of the boy together with a care-giver from Children of Fire. The photographs also show him as a happy child, rather than a traumatised victim.
What is captivating about this article is the way the journalist portrays the boy. She writes, “The energetic Grade 2 pupil lost the bones of his forehead when he suffered severe burns to his face,” (Sowetan, 19/01/09, p. 6). Considering that Felleng was only one-month-old when he was burnt and that his mother never returned to take him from hospital, portraying describing him as energetic is not only good but encouraged. It shows suggests that he is not only a passive victims of circumstance but rather active participants in societies they live in.
Furthermore, the article gives children a voice by quoting them. Felleng is quoted as saying, “I won’t have to wear this blue helmet when I come back from Switzerland. I hate it. Maybe I’ll also come back with lots of chocolate,” (Sowetan, 19/01/09, p. 6). His friend, Sizwe is also quoted as saying, “I will miss Felleng because he is my friend, though he likes shouting at me,” (Sowetan, 19/01/09, p. 6).
Giving children a voice is not only important because it is enshrined in article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child , but also because we cannot hope to devise strategies or solutions that will address children’s concerns unless we hear from children themselves.
The article also reflects what society is doing to facilitate and fulfill child rights. The reconstructive surgery, care and education Felleng is receiving shows that society is guaranteeing his rights to leisure and recreation, education and parental responsibilities2.
MMA encourages newspapers to keep writing such positive stories about children as the Sowetan’s. Through such stories society will be reminded to continue respecting, protecting, facilitating and fulfilling child rights.
1 Media Monitoring Project. 2004. “Children: Dying to make the news. An analysis of children’s coverage in the South African news media” Media Monitoring Project: Johannesburg.
2 See Articles 18, 29 and 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child