School violence acts like canaries in a gold mine; it shows us that something is wrong with our society, and for this reason it is newsworthy. Similar too, the way we as a society treat our children speaks volumes about our society. The least we can do is to protect abused children from further harm. Journalists in both Sowetan and Daily Sun failed to do this in their coverage of school violence during the week of the 15th September 2008, and instead wrote articles to get MAD about.
The article in Daily Sun (16/09/08, p. 7) is about physical abuse inflicted on a 15-year old girl by another girl. The headline, “Teacher watched them fight”, seems to indicate that this was a brawl, rather than one pupil beating up another until she lost consciousness.
The article identifies the victim, which could expose her to further peer abuse and potentially abuse from the teacher involved, as it seems that the victim’s mother approached Daily Sun to print the story.
The consequences from the article could be far worse than the fallout from the abuse itself. The story would have lost nothing, and would have better served the interests of the child, had the name of the victim been excluded.
Similarly, but possibly even more seriously, is the article from Sowetan (19/09/08, p.8)) entitled“Children skip classes in fear of many thugs”. This story details the assault of pupils by three “thugs”.
The victims are again identified which could lead to further assaults and even murder; should the criminals feel that the girls may identify and testify against them.
The identification of these victims is not only not in their best interests, but illegal according to the Criminal Procedures Act .
Strikingly, on the same page, an article by Pertunia Ratsatsi didn’t identify a child assaulted at school. The article entitled “Pupil stabbed 5 times over dice winnings” protects the boy’s identity and the story is none the worse for this discretion. Unfortunately, the story is marred by the addition of a South African Press Association (Sapa) story of another assault which identifies a victim.
These stories reflect the difficulties that journalists, in their role as gatekeepers, face. The sources in the stories may wish that the victim be identified – such as Daily Sun one (seemingly the mother) and the second Sowetan one (the police spokesperson). However journalists should consider the best interests of the child, and, in particular avoid doing further harm to the children. In addition, the story is often no better for the inclusion of names.
1. The Criminal Procedure Act, Section 154(3) states: “No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18 years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”