Sowetan receives a MAD1 for indirectly identifying a child who is a witness in a criminal case by revealing the name of his mother, a jazz musician.

The story, “Boy’s assault case moved” (27/06/2013, p.2) reports on a case involving the musician’s nine year-old son which, according to the article “has been transferred from the Randburg Magistrate’s court to the Alexandra Magistrate’s court due to the lack of children interviewing facilities.”

In the article, the journalist identified the musician who allegedly opened a case on behalf of her son after he was shouted at and had a gun pointed at him by their neighbour. Given that the case is a legal matter and the witness/victim is a minor, Sowetan under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act was required to protect the child’s identity.2

Moreover, the article had a narrow focus of how the case was being moved to another court and ultimately missed an opportunity to explain the consequences of the decision and further explore some of the issues which arose from the story. These include the effect this can have on the child and addressing other questions that also remain unanswered such as: what is the Randburg Magistrate’s Court doing to ensure that they are equipped with these special facilities? And why special interviewing equipment is of importance?” This of course, stands aside from the obviously stated reason of allowing the child to be interviewed, “without him coming into contact with the perpetrator.”  In this instance, the journalist could have explained that interviewing equipment is a special measure put in place by the justice system to protect the interests of child witnesses and set them at ease, to protect them from the trauma associated with giving evidence in court. Not only would this have been informative and educational for the reader, but would have created awareness around the rights of child witnesses.

Media Monitoring Africa would like to urge Sowetan to seek information that will leave the reader adequately informed and always ensure that the coverage of criminal cases involving children is in line with the law.

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 51 of 1977 clearly stipulates that: “No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of eighteen years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of eighteen years”