The articles, “Police hunt for brutal killers of six” (The New Age, 11/03/2013, p.1), “Cops hunt gunmen after six family members slain” (The Star, 12/03/2013, p.6) and “Net closing in on killers”(The New Age, 15/03/2013, p.8), received our MAD1 nomination of the week for flouting the Criminal Procedure Act by identifying potential child witnesses.

The articles are about six family members who were killed by “unknown” gunmen in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa allegedly over cattle theft. The suspects are still at large and police have since launched an investigation into the shooting.

In all the articles, potential child witnesses to the shooting were identified.2 This contravenes section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which clearly stipulates that:

“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.”

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) ’s understanding is that criminal proceedings begin the very moment police start their investigations. This means that although the suspects have not yet been caught and therefore not appeared in court, the names of the children who were injured in the shooting should not have been published.

These children have the potential to be witnesses in the event that suspects are caught and the case goes to court; hence the need to protect their identities.

Apart from the legal aspect, there is also an ethical dimension, that of, minimising harm. Given that the suspects are still at large, there is a possibility that they could return and harm the children, who could possibly testify against them in a court of law.

MMA therefore encourages the media to strive to protect the identities of potential child witnesses, not only from a legal perspective but also from an ethical standpoint. This will ensure that they not only obey the law but also report in the best interests of children.

1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good and bad practice; a MAD is awarded to the week’s worst performing article(s) in terms of reporting on children.
2. Please note that we have withheld the names of the potential child witnesses and also blurred all the photographs that may lead to their identities being revealed.