The Citizen undermined its own efforts to protect the identity of a child rape victim by indirectly identifying her. As a result it gets a MAD from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA).

“Six slaughtered in KZN massacre” (The Citizen, 27/10/2010, p.3) reported on a violent murder and robbery that left two children dead and a 13-year-old girl raped, among other victims. The girl’s brother (an adult survivor and witness) was accessed in the article. Only his first name was provided with the journalist explicitly stating that his surname cannot be published “as his 13-year-old sister was raped during the attack.” This served as an indication that the journalist was aware that the child could not be identified in the media, directly or indirectly, as she is a rape victim.

However, a photograph of the brother was published along with the article, undermining efforts made to protect the identity of his sister. Even though the brother was facing sideways, he was still identifiable.

This contravenes the Sexual Offences Bill which prohibits journalists from publishing the identity of a victim of a sexual offence, or that of the victim’s family, or any other information that may lead to the identification of the victim or their family.

It is also against UNICEF guidelines on reporting on children which advise journalists not to publish a story or an image that might put a child, their siblings or peers at risk even when identities are changed or obscured or not used.

The same photograph, in which the brother was identified, was published again in a follow-up article entitled “Rural crime on increase” (The Citizen, 30/10/2010, p.4). Confusingly, the caption on that occasion said that the 13-year old girl had been murdered.

Identifying the child could have be justified had she in fact been murdered – as children who have been killed can be identified in the media under appropriate circumstances.

However, in the context of the first article, it appears more likely that this later statement about the child’s death was a mistake.

An article on the same story, which appeared on The Times’ website on the 26 October 2010, also reported that the girl survived the attacks. This further supports the assumption that the child is still alive.

We urge The Citizen to avoid contravening legislation that is in place to protect victims of sexual offences and to make sure that they are not subjected to further trauma and harm, and further to ensure accuracy and attention to detail in its reporting.