Sunday Times fails to priorities children’s care

South Africa is stricken with drugs and substance abuse, and this has affected many communities including the youth. A study by South African Family Practice (SAFP) revealed that the prevalence of substance abuse is very high for rural school communities, and this highlights the need to pay attention to rural schools regarding substance abuse challenges.[1] As this is a big problem, concerted efforts from different stakeholders are needed to address it. These stakeholders include the media who should report the problem to get the attention of duty-bearers. The media are called upon to report this problem, just like other issues facing children, with the utmost care so as not to subject any child to potential further harm.

It is concerning and very unfortunate that an article reporting the issue of drugs, for which Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD,[2] does not minimise harm to the children involved. The article titled, “Westbury’s curriculum of drugs, gangs and death”, (05/03/2023) reports on the problem of drugs in Westbury, Johannesburg and details how children are involved in selling drugs, how they are “breadwinners” from the sales and how they are involved and affected by gang violence. In the story, children are interviewed about the gang violence they have seen or experienced.

MMA is concerned that children are interviewed in the article commenting on traumatic events. One of the children, an eight-year-old boy is quoted talking about how his father and uncle were shot – mentioning how his uncle was shot in his presence. Another child also talks about his uncle was shot in his presence. We find such an action unnecessary as it has the potential to cause further trauma to the children who are made to relive their traumatic ordeals by recounting their experiences. MMA submits that such secondary trauma is not only unethical, unnecessary but also has the potential to lengthen the children’s healing process.

The events relayed in the article are evidently traumatic and very upsetting to the children. Therefore, Sunday Times should have exercised caution. We do urge the media to speak to children but only when it is the best interests of children and only if doing so will not expose the children to harm, including potential harm. If the media must speak to children who have experienced something traumatic, they must do so after the child has undergone thorough counselling and has been deemed healthy enough to recount their ordeal. We also urge the media to conduct such an interview in the presence of a counsellor. The article does not indicate whether the children received counselling prior to the interview and whether a counsellor was present during the interviews.

Further, the graphic detail given by children and included in the article such as mentioning all the incidents and the sounds heard and made by the children makes one wonder how such detail benefits readers.

By interviewing these children, Sunday Times disregarded the rights of the children to privacy and protection. Further, the publication flouted MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media. The Guidelines state in interviewing and reporting on children, special attention is to be paid to their right to privacy and confidentiality, to participate in decisions affecting them, and to be protected from harm and retribution, even potential harm and retribution”.[3]

MMA urges Sunday Times to be cautious and take great care when reporting on children. It is of paramount importance for media to be considerate and to understand the powerful role they play when reporting on issues that affect children. The media are urged to always report in line with ethical considerations when reporting on children.

We kindly ask Sunday Times to be more vigilant going forward when interviewing children. The journalists must make sure that proper steps are taken and professionals such as counsellors are present when interviewing children about traumatic experiences. We emphasise that the media should only interview children after the children have undergone thorough counselling. It would also be helpful to state for readers to be informed if such professionals are present in such cases.

We look forward to reading more ethically reported stories on children which protect the children involved.

Written by Ntombi Kubeka and Lister Namumba


[2] MADs are given to media for irresponsibly reporting on children and compromising their safety.

[3] mma_editorial_guideline.pdf (