Over 250, 000 children develop TB and 100,000 children will continue to die each year from the disease.1 It is also revealed that more than 200 children die every day in South Africa before the age of five as a result of TB. In a bid to create greater awareness about the impact of TB on children, SABC 3’s Special Assignment aired a documentary titled “No one will help them” on the 20th March 2012, 21H00. The documentary in question failed to protect the identities of the children who suffered from TB, thereby exposing them to potential stigma and reprisals.It is for this reason that the show receives a MAD.2
The documentary sourced various medical experts who highlighted how paediatric TB is not given a high priority as opposed to malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, diarrhoea and pneumonia which are usually cited as major causes of child deaths. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) recognises the show’s aim to uncover the truth and its quest to bring informative documentaries like this one to the public. MMA however, also believes that the rights of all the children they interviewed/showed should have been prioritised and that their identities should have been protected, whether consent was sought or not.3
Also highlighted in the show was the growing presence of drug resistant TB amongst children, where more and more patients are being infected with strains of bacteria that do not respond to the normal TB treatment. It was also noted in the Press Release of the show that many children who suffer from drug resistant TB are often isolated in hospitals for the duration of their treatment. They are taken from their families and homes, forced to wear masks and only allowed limited physical contact with others. It is a traumatic experience for any child.4
However, with the stigma associated with TB in mind, especially drug resistant TB (XDR), the producers still failed to protect the identities of the children to prevent further stigmatisation and possible isolation from the community and family members. It is important to be aware that once a child is identified; there is a considerable degree of damage done to that person and that can never be completely reversed. As emphasised by MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media “special attention is to be paid to each child’s right to privacy and confidentiality, to have their opinions heard, to participate in decisions affecting them and to be protected from harm and retribution, even potential harm and retribution”.
While MMA applauds Special Assignment for raising awareness about how the vulnerable and poor suffer from (XDR) TB, MMA would also like to stress that the dignity and rights of every child are to be respected in every circumstance so that reporting on children is done in an ethical manner.
1. World Health Organisation: Communicable Diseases Department, Tuberculosis↩
2. MMA highlights cases of good and best practice, where the media has promoted the rights, interests and welfare of children, they are awarded “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”↩
3.See SABC Press release: “A Special Assignment Report”. ↩
4. MMA Editorial Guidelines and Principles for reporting on Children in the Media↩