It is tragic how avoidable mistakes at a hospital can adversely affect the future of children who fall victim to negligence. In such cases, the media has a responsibility to hold those responsible to account but to do so without violating the rights of the children involved.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) believes that two juxtaposed stories published by The Starhighlighting the challenges faced by two boys as a result of negligence at public hospitals, emphasise the ethical challenges of reporting on such stories, and while one gets a GLAD, the other unfortunately merits a MAD.
The first story “Botched operation left young boy without a penis” (The Star, 07/03/2011 p.2) is about a boy who lost his penis due to a circumcision that went wrong. Whilst, the second story“Province faces R1.8m bill after baby asphyxiated” (The Star, 07/03/2011 p.2), reported on a boy who has cerebral palsy due to failure by hospital staff to administer a caesarean section when it was clearly needed.
The circumcision story was sensitively reported in that the boy was afforded privacy and was treated with utmost dignity. The journalist made a deliberate decision not to identify the boy by giving him a pseudo-name. The uncle and aunt of the boy were interviewed and it was clearly stated in the story that their names could not be revealed in order to protect the identity of the boy.
A photograph of the boy and his aunt was also published along with the article but their identities were sufficiently hidden. This level of privacy was necessary and made us GLAD because identifying the child, either directly or indirectly, in such a case would have been a serious violation of his right to privacy and dignity.
In the second story, about the boy who has cerebral palsy, The Star provided the names of the child and the parents in both the article and the picture accompanying it.
MMA believes that the decision to name a child needs to be taken on a case by case basis and only with informed consent that is mindful of the best interests of the child, from both the child and his/her parent(s) or guardian(s).
In some instances, a child may not be named as his/her condition may subject them to humiliation – as in the case of the first story “Botched operation left young boy without a penis”. In these situations the child’s identity should be hidden.
There is clearly no shame or humiliation in having cerebral palsy or any other disability for that matter, so long as the reporting is sensitive and empowering. What is of concern is that The Staridentified the child with cerebral palsy in the article “Province faces R1.8m bill after baby asphyxiated” along with a quote that was disempowering and that stripped the child of his agency. This deserves a MAD. The child’s mother was quoted as saying: “It breaks my heart to see him like this. You see him crawling out excitedly when boys his age call out his name and it hurts because he can never be like them.”
MMA’s guidelines and principles on reporting on children adopted by The Star as part of theIndependent Group state that: “If there is a story on a child with a disability…ensure that the child is represented with dignity.” This is essential as it re-enforces the child’s agency.
The Star should be commended for the prominence given to these stories and for highlighting the effect medical negligence has had on the lives of these two children. However, we urge the newspaper and its journalists to ensure that all children are afforded the right to dignity, in order to successfully navigate such ethically challenging areas.
We look forward to stories that heed this call.