As a key source of information, media has a responsibility to respect, protect, facilitate and fulfil children’s rights. The Star, through a series of articles ( “I’m afraid he may rape me” , 14/07/09, p. 1;“Pushed, teased, hit, raped” and “Abuse is happening everywhere” , 16/07/09, p. 1; “Your SMS feedback” , 16/07/09, p. 5; “Policies devised to counter bullying – MEC” , 17/07/09, p. 1; and,“College acts on bullying with hotline”, 22/07/09, p. 3) by Angelique Serrao, stands out for exposing bullying in schools, and prompting action by government and the school involved. City Press also stands out for taking a preventative approach to bullying, in its article “The playground mafia”(09/08/09, p. 23) by Mokgadi Seabi. Both The Star and City Press deserve a Glad nomination.
In the article “I’m afraid he may rape me” (14/07/09, p. 1), The Star reported that a 14-year old boy was allegedly bullied by another pupil so badly at school that he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and childhood depression and was forced to transfer to another school.
The article is accompanied by an extract of the victim’s statement detailing how he was physically and verbally bullied. The report quoted the principal of the school saying the school had done an investigation and could only find proof of verbal abuse hence the parents of the alleged bully are suing the victim’s parents for defamation of character.
Although the article named the school, it protected both the victim and the alleged bully’s identities by giving them the pseudo names of Jacob and Martin, respectively, and not revealing their parents’ names. The article is accompanied by a photograph which also protects the victim’s identity, through the camera angle used.
Protecting the identity of the victim and alleged perpetrator is crucial for two main reasons. It is not only in line with section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 , but it is also in the best interest of the victim and alleged perpetrator, as it minimises chances of further bullying and victimisation, respectively.
Following the exposure of Jacob’s case, The Starinvited people to send views and comments via the newspaper’s SMS feedback number. This provided parents and children a platform to air their views and experiences without fear of victimisation.
Through the SMS initiative, The Starwas able to reveal more cases of bullying at the same school and at other schools around Johannesburg, in the articles “Pushed, teased, hit, raped”, “Abuse is happening everywhere” (16/07/09, p. 1) by Serrao and “Your SMS feedback” (16/07/09, p. 5).
Serrao reported that the The Star’s SMS line had been inundated with parents reporting that their children had been bullied at the same school, as well as at other schools around Johannesburg.
The Star showed a strong commitment to exposing bullying by following up and giving it front page coverage, which is commendable. Had The Star not shown such commitment, the government and the school involved may not have been prompted to act in the way that was subsequently reported on.
In the articles “Policies devised to counter bullying – MEC” (17/07/09, p. 1) and “College acts on bullying with hotline” (22/07/09, p. 3), The Star revealed that the government and the school involved had been prompted to device new policies to root out bullying. For example, the Gauteng Education Department indicated that a new policy dealing with safety in schools was being developed and it would be made public within a few months. In addition, the school involved has reportedly set up a bullying hotline where parents can call or SMS their concerns about bullying at the school.
Unlike The Star, City Press took a preventive angle to bullying, in the article “The playground mafia” (09/08/09, p. 23) by Mokgadi Seabi.
The article spoke to the reality of bullying in schools and its effects on children’s lives. It did this by starting from the premise that bullying is found in every school and can cause lasting psychological and physiological damage to children; a reality society needs to accept and deal with.
The article sourced various experts, and looked at gender differences, as well as developments in bullying, in the context social networking sites, cell phones and the internet.
It provided statistics on bullying and included tips for parents on how to deal with and prevent their children from being bullies or bullied. It also identified steps that children should take in order to protect themselves from bullies.
While the article took a preventive approach to bullying, it provided the full name  of an 11-year old girl, which may not have been in her best interests.
The girl was reported as saying that a boy waits outside the school for her every day, even though he knows that she does not like him. The article also mentioned that the girl prefers not to tell her mother, because her friends will laugh at her and think that she is afraid of boys.
Given these circumstances, identifying the child is problematic. She might be victimised by her peers, further bullied by the boy, and asked by her mother why she had not told her from the beginning. While City Press could have alerted the mother and the authorities, it could have made the choice to protect the child’s identity.
Overall, The Star and City Press are commended for playing their role in addressing bullying. It remains to be seen what role other media, government, schools, parents and children will also play.
- Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act states that, “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.”
- MMA has concealed the name in the article to protect the girl’s identity.