Protest action has become a dominant form of recourse for South Africans to voice out their grievances and dissatisfaction. Of late, there have been several protests that have revolved around challenges of service delivery, minimum wages, and other societal issues.  Recently, school children protested against the quality of education amongst many other issues. This protest subsequently garnered substantial media coverage. In particular, The Star published a story, titled“Pupils go on rampage in CBD” (31/07/2014, p. 2),  which Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) feels fell short of ethical and legal reporting on children and for this reason was selected for a MAD.1

While the article is well reported, the main concern is that the image published alongside the article identifies a child who is a victim of abuse and is a clear violation of the child’s right to dignity and privacy. The image depicts a child being beaten by a crowd of angry men. The Star explains the context of the image by saying that, “some protesting Gauteng school pupils were beaten by shop owners whose stores they allegedly looted”.

The image and the context given thereof, seemingly makes a direct link between the child and the alleged crime being committed, looting shops. By making this connection, The Star exposes the child to further risks of harm. For example, this has the potential to negatively impact the child’s mental and social health, self-respect or dignity.

Moreover, by publishing an image of this nature, The Star violated provisions set out in the Criminal Procedure Act and the Press Code. Firstly, Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act warns against the direct or indirect identification of a child who has been accused of a crime, or the witness of a crime. It states that “No person shall publish 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.”

The child in the image appears to be accused of shoplifting and therefore their identity should remain anonymous as required by law.

Secondly, the child is clearly a victim of abuse. As such, Section 8.3 of the Press Code recognises the need to protect the identity of a child who has been abused. It states that “The press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime, unless a public interest is evident and it is in the best interests of the child.”

According to media monitors from Troyeville Primary2, when asked what they would have done differently with this article, they said, “we would have changed the picture and shown a picture of the learners marching”. This statement emphasises the fact that there are many other aspects of the protest that could and should have been covered without compromising the rights of the child.

MMA calls on The Star to ensure the protection of children in their reporting. This will not only ensure the protection of the child, but also ensure that no violations have been committed in terms of the Press Code and the Criminal Procedure Act.

1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”
2. Troyeville Primary school participates in MMA’s Children’s Monitoring Project where learners aged between 12 and 14 are taught media literacy and monitoring skills.