Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) lauds the outstanding coverage of children by Sowetan in five articles, all published in the 17 February 2014 edition. The articles show a clear and deliberate effort on the part of Sowetan to put children and issues that affect them on the news agenda, something that media seldom do.
The first two articles on page seven, “These kids walk 7km to school” and “Suffer the children in blame game” report on the Northwest government’s failure to help children who have to walk long distances to school.
These articles demonstrate government’s lack of accountability in dealing with barriers to learning. The latter article in particular gives context to the story and highlights how the Northwest’s departments of Education and Public Works are “noncommittal” and are instead blaming each other for not heeding the plight of the children.
The residents of GaMothakga village in Mahikeng are interviewed and were quoted citing how their efforts of requesting transport for the children or at least a school in the area have all been in vain. Not only is this context provided for the reader, but the children are interviewed and asked what they think about their plight. Allowing the children to give their input in this matter is very important and should be commended as children’s views are seldom sought by the media in issues that affect them.1 More so, the involvement of children is important because it ensures that what is provided is in fact what is needed by them.
The two articles are child-focused and demonstrate how children bear the brunt of the governments’ lack of commitment and reluctance to solve problems that affect children.
The articles are also follow-ups to an article that the Sowetan journalist, Boitumelo Tshehle, wrote the previous year. This evidently shows editorial commitment on the part of Sowetan and an endeavour to find a solution to the challenges the children are facing in accessing quality education.
The article, “‘I want a normal life’” on page 10 is about a young girl looking for help after being diagnosed with a rare condition which caused her stomach to swell. The article eloquently shows how the diverging religious views her parents have on her condition and her receiving treatment have impacted child’s life.
The Sowetan cleverly highlights that in such situations, it is important to consider the child’s best interests. It does this by publishing another article on the same page, “Court rules in ‘best interests of baby’”, detailing a court ruling on a 10-day-old baby whose parents refused to give permission for the baby to receive blood transfusion on religious grounds.
The article quotes Section 28(2) of the constitution which states that: “the best interests of the child are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”This subliminally shows that in cases such as that of the girl, all considerations must be made with the best interests of the child in mind; that the child’s best interests should be a priority in all matters that concern them.
Although Sowetan does not overtly link the two articles, it strategically published them on the same page, so that readers can make those links for themselves.
In another article, “David lives life to the fullest” on page 13, Sowetan portrays the boy in a dignified manner and emphasises his abilities more than his disabilities.
According to the article, David does the same things that able-bodied children do and perhaps beyond, he plays cricket, swims, writes and types on the computer despite the fact that he does not have hands.Several pictures of the boy are also included in the piece. David is also interviewed through-out the article. At one point he is quoted saying, “I refuse to allow my disability to prevent me from doing things I enjoy.” This article demonstrates the resilience that children have and their abilities to overcome huge adversities such as disability.
By their sheer numbers alone, children ought to be impracticable for the media to overlook them yet the reality is that children’s issues rarely top the news agenda. But the Sowetan coverage shifts the dominant paradigm on how children are portrayed in the media. MMA hopes to see more conscious and deliberate coverage of children’s issues (good or bad) not only from Sowetan but also from other media.
1. According to a recent report by MMA, Children seen but still not heard a lack of children’s voices in the media remains a major challenge. See the report here:https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/index.php/resources/entry/children_in_the_news_seen_but_still_not_heard/↩