t is legitimate for media to report on the private lives of celebrities or public figures if their private lives impact their performance or ethics of their responsibilities. However, “[ ] strikes big off the football field” (Sowetan, 12/07/2013, p.3) deserves Media Monitoring Africa’s MAD1 nomination for the following reasons:
•Contravening the Maintance Act;
•Trivialising and sensationalising an important issue;
•Reporting on an issue that is not necessarily in the ‘public interest’; and,
•Not considering the children’s best interests.
The article is about a soccer player who is accused of fathering three children with different women and failing to pay maintenance for one of the children.
The article provides the names and carries photographs of the soccer player and two of the women involved.2 By providing these details, the article contravened section 36 (1) of the Maintenance Act, which clearly stipulates that:
“…no person shall publish in any manner whatsoever the name or address of any person under the age of 18 years who is or was involved in any proceedings at a maintenance enquiry or the name of his or her school or any other information likely to reveal the identity of that person.”
In addition, even if consent was given by the parties involved, Sowetan failed to consider the child’s best interests by providing details that could reveal the identities of the children involved.
It is important to protect the identity of children especially when reporting issues of maintenance because in such cases there is usually a lot of emotional pain due to conflict within the family.
Being identified in the media increases the emotional burden/undue stress of the child/children involved. So publicity in this regard is a negative contribution due to its capacity to bring about feelings of shame and negative self-perceptions.
Furthermore, by using statements like, “the striker seems to have good aim on, and off, the pitch!” and “it seems he is also a striker off the pitch”, Sowetan seem to trivialise a rather critical issue that speaks to the development of society’s most vulnerable group, children.
Although the story might be interesting to the public, in our view, it is not necessarily in the ‘public interest’. We use the term ‘public interest’ to refer to “the complex supposed informational, cultural and social benefits to the wider society which go beyond the immediate, particular and individual interests” of neither Sowetan nor the people involved in the story.
In this regard, the way in which the story was covered does not add value to society in any way, shape or form. If Sowetan felt that the story is in the ‘public interest’, an explanation should have been provided as to why it is important to carry such a story.
Media are under no obligation to report stories that are only in the ‘public interest.’ However, when they choose to report stories that are interesting to the public, at least context should be provided so that audiences get the connection. Furthermore, this has to be done within the confines of the law and in ways that protect children’s rights.
1. On a weekly basis, Media Monitoring Africa 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. Please note that we have blurred all the information that is likely to reveal the identities of the children involved.↩