Reporting about children and their challenges is of crucial importance and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) always appreciates the efforts. However, it is equally important to ensure that the reporting is done with great caution and protection of the children involved. Unfortunately, articles from the Sowetan have fallen short of meeting these standards and it is because of this reason that they have been selected for a MAD1. Sowetan’s breaking story “Boy (12) stunned by dad’s brutal killing” (20/01/2016 p.2) indirectly identified a 12-year-old boy who witnessed his father’s murder.
According to the article, the 12-year-old saw his father being “hacked with a panga and run over with a bakkie.” The article further reveals how the family said “they were now terrified because the men accused of killing him [the boy’s father] were out on bail.” With this background information, Sowetan still went ahead and identified the boy by indirectly naming his deceased father, mother and sister. MMA condemns this reporting because not only does it put the lives of the family and especially the child in harm’s way, identifying him like this is a contravention of the Criminal Procedures Act.2
Two of the follow-up stories published in Sowetan “Ministers vow to help slain farmer’s family” (25/01/2016, p.8),“Attack said to be racially driven” (25/01/2016, p.8) and an editorial titled “Fair justice must prevail” (25/01/2016, p.25) also failed to minimise harm and protect the privacy of the child who is clearly traumatised and is likely to be the witness in the criminal case.
The media are required and expected to be sensitive when reporting on children especially in instances where they are either victims or witnesses to crimes. Failure to do this, the media increases the level of trauma experienced by these children and instills fear to speak out.
While it is important to tell these stories media should always ensure that the rights of the children involved are not compromised.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) reminds Sowetan to consider what is in the best interest of the child and to pay special attention to avoid any direct or indirect identification of children in line with the existing laws and standards of best practice.
By Musa Rikhotso
1.MADs- Refers to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage↩
2. Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977: No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of eighteen years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of eighteen years: Provided that the presiding judge or judicial officer may authorize the publication of so much of such information as he may deem fit if the publication thereof would in his opinion be just and equitable and in the interest of any particular person