Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) awards a GLAD[1] to The Star for withholding the identity of a child victim in an article, and for avoiding subjecting her to secondary trauma.

They shot at me as I ran away, says girl aged 9 (The Star, 13/09/2017, p.1) reports on a nine-year-old girl who was allegedly assaulted and tied to a tree by two farmers in Zithobeni near Bronkhorstspruit. The article reports that the child was part of a group of children who were taking a walk with their dogs when the dogs disappeared and the children jumped over a farm fence to look for them. According to the article, the children were “greeted with gunshots” and others ran away except for the nine-year-old who was caught and assaulted. As a result of the attack, the girl reportedly sustained injuries on her wrist, finger and knees.

The girl is quoted from a police statement saying, “They tied me on the tree with the handcuffs. He then slapped me again. The other man then put the gun on my forehead and threatened that if we ever come again, they are going to kill us. I was untied and told to run …. after they shot at me while I ran.”

The journalist, Matlhatsi Dibakwane, wrote a follow-up story titled “Mother tells of girl’s nightmare ordeal (The Star, 15/09/2017, p.2) focusing on the trauma experienced by the child, as told to the court by her mother. The mother is quoted saying, “She [the child] was shaky and was scared…her school principal called me and said she was emotional and crying at school.” The mother also reports the trauma experienced by the child’s sibling, who is also part of the group of children that were shot at by the farmers.

MMA applauds the efforts made by The Star to protect the identity of the child by consistently withholding her name as well as her mother’s. “The child’s mother, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the alleged victim…“ is given in the article as a reason the identity of the child’s mother has not been revealed. Through media monitoring, MMA has often observed that media tend to neglect sufficiently protecting the identities of the children in stories of this nature. In the 2016 media monitoring report titled “The Rights of children in the South African media”[2] on page seven, children’s rights are violated at eleven percent. Such violations include not withholding the children’s identities in stories about crime, not protecting their best interest, and so forth.

Protecting the identities of children especially in these instances is essential as not doing so compromises their safety. The children might be harmed to keep them from testifying or for retribution. By withholding the identity of the child, The Star adhered to Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977 which 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 of 18 years”

The Star also reported in line with Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media,[3] published by MMA with input from children, journalists and editors. The Guidelines on page two urge the media stating that “Even where you are trying to tell people about harm to children or another children’s issue or promote children’s rights, you always need to respect the best interests of the individual child.”

Further to protecting the identity of the child, The Star also shielded the child from harm by avoiding to interview her and instead quoted her from her statement to the police. By not interviewing her, The Star avoided subjecting the child to further trauma by having her recount her story thereby reliving her traumatic experience. Subjecting children to secondary trauma lengthens their healing process.

We hope to read more of such ethically reported stories on children from The Star and implore on other media to emulate The Star’s efforts.

By Jacques Ndong

[1]A GLAD refers to an article where the rights and welfare of children have been promoted