A child’s right to privacy is very important especially when it pertains to matters relating to legal proceedings that the child is involved in. Here, the media needs to make sure that that child’s right to privacy is protected and promoted.

However, Sunday World in an article titled, “[Name withheld] wants to adopt drug addict relative’s child” (27/07/2021) failed to adhere to ethical and legal frameworks around protecting and promoting children’s right to privacy. For this reason, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives the publication a MAD.[1]

The story is about a well-known South African actress who is reportedly in the process of adopting a five-year-old child whose mother, the actress’s relative, is a “drug addict”.  According to the story, the actress wants her relative’s parental responsibility and guardianship to be terminated and to be granted to her so that she can raise the child. In the story the actress claims that the mother of the child is a recovering drug addict who suffers from depression among other things.

Sunday World must be commended for not naming the child and her mother for “legal reasons” as stated in the story. However, MMA holds the view that this was not sufficient to protect the privacy of the child especially that the actress who is a relative has been named.

MMA therefore finds that Sunday World flouted its own Editorial Code of Ethics which stipulates, “We will not do anything that may expose them [children] to abuse, discrimination, retribution, embarrassment or any other risk.”

Identifying the actress consequently exposes the girl to potential further embarrassment and possible discrimination in the future especially if the adoption succeeds. This is possible because the number of children that the actress has and their identities is well known and can easily be found with a few clicks online. Therefore, when that number changes and a new child is added to the family, the public will be able to tell who the adopted child of a “drug addict” is. This might subject the child to harm such as victimisation and ridicule, among others.

By not sufficiently protecting the child’s privacy and revealing her auntie’s identity, Sunday World also violated Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution  which stipulates, “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.” In the story, the child’s best interest is not protected.

While it can be argued that identifying the actress was in the public interest, MMA is of the view that this is not so and that the actress’s identity in this story is merely interesting to the public. Irrespective of whether there is a public interest in knowing the identity of the actress, the media should always take into consideration whether the story and the decision to reveal certain impactful information such as the identity, is in the best interest of the child involved. The public interest in the story must never supersede the best interest of the child involved.

MMA advises that when the media report on children, they should always consider the impact the story might have on the child, presently or in future.

We therefore urge Sunday World to be cautious and ensure the publication always respects the privacy of children in order to protect them.

Written by Musa Rikhotso

Edited by Lister Namumba

[1] MADs are given to journalists who have irresponsibly reported on children and have compromised their rights and welfare.