An article by Sowetan“Drunk aunt puts 4-year-old in hot water” (10/06/2013 p.6) flouted Media Monitoring Africa (MMA)’s Editorial Guidelines for Reporting on Children and ironically the Times Media Policy Guide by indirectly identifying a victim of abuse. MMA therefore nominates the article for a MAD1 for not taking extra care in protecting the child’s identity and thereby exposing the child to further harm.

The journalist reports that the four-year-old girl’s aunt was under the influence of alcohol when she took the child from her mother and later put her in a bucket full of hot water. Both the child’s mother and aunt are named in the article, thereby indirectly identifying her.

According to MMA’s editorial guidelines for reporting on children, it is important for journalists “to exercise extreme care to ensure their reporting does not cause further harm, trauma, distress, humiliation, embarrassment, grief or expose them to danger.”

The Times Media Policy for reporting on children also states that “In our reporting on the lives and welfare of children, we undertake to act in accordance with the Constitution and in appreciation of the vulnerable situation of children.”It further purports that they, “recognise that children’s rights to privacy and dignity deserve the highest degree of protection, and [they] undertake to respect these rights in every situation.” These principles were however disregarded in the article.

MMA acknowledges the efforts made by the journalist to protect the child’s identity by not naming her and also taking a picture showing only her back. But these efforts were obviously negated by identifying her aunt and mother.

Further to this, The journalist sourced a police spokesman who confirmed that a charge of attempted murder has been laid against the aunt. By virtue of her aunt being charged with attempted murder, it was even more important for the journalist to protect the child’s identity as she is consequently a witness to a criminal matter. In criminal cases, child victims are not supposed to be identified.  In terms of section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act, “No information which may reveal the identity of a witness who is under 18 years of age, may be published.”

MMA would like to highlight the importance of carrying out reporting that is consistent with the child’s best interests.  We hope that the Sowetan will take notice and respect children’s rights in all their coverage and more especially in situations where their safety might be compromised.

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”