The Media Monitoring Project (MMP) was delighted to seeThe Star report on a trio of young women placed on the front page of its 29 August 2008 edition.“Heroic schoolgirls teach adults a life lesson”, by Kanina Foss, is highly commended for being a positive and well constructed article, which challenges stereotypes about children and young people, and whose message is given weight and prominence by being on the front page.
The article relates how three schoolgirls, aged 17 to 18, helped save a woman’s life on a bus ride to school, while the other adult passengers stood by and provided no assistance.
Research by MMP (2004) has shown that articles relating to children are few and rarely given prominence in the media (“Dying to make the news: An analysis of children’s coverage in the South African news media”).
As was discussed in a previous MADOAT analysis, “Turning a horror story into a positive life story” (August 2008), children and young people are often portrayed as victims of abuse, rather than positive role models and active citizens.
Foss writes about young women who are not passive victims of crime, but play a pro-active role, assisting others, where their adult counter-parts fail to do so. Their quick actions show them to be positive role models for children and also for adults. One of the young women was quoted in the article, giving voice to those who are subjects in the story and who so often remain voiceless in the news.
While the article and paper are generally applauded by MMP, attention needs to be drawn to one issue which could be improved in future articles. Where the young women are quoted, it is in the context of what they said at the time to illustrate what happened. It is not clear from the article whose voice is used to tell the story, and what the young women’s views on their experience are. In addition, where they are quoted, the young women are only quoted twice, equal to the number of times their principal was quoted, who was in no way involved in the incident. Given the nature of the story, more frequent direct quoting of the young women would have been appropriate, enabling the story to be told in their own words, and to also show respect for the clear capacity of the young women.
Through the Children’s Media Monitoring Project, as part of MMP’s Empowering Children and the Media Strategy, MMP discussed the article with children, who provided their opinions on the piece. Most liked the story because it presented children in a positive light. Children commented on how “no bad things were said about the children”, how and they were shown “being brave”, and that the article provided recognition for their actions. When asked what they would put in the article if they had the opportunity, some also commented that they would have included more of “what the girls say”, as well as instructions for those caught in a similar situation (Children’s workshop, 01/09/08).
As MMP tries to reiterate throughout its analysis of articles on children, articles such these are important for readers to see more regularly. These stories provide opportunities for adult and young readers alike to learn that children and young people can also play active, positive roles in society. Thus, MMP congratulates The Star and Kanina Foss for their front page story, and hopes that they continue to build and improve on this achievement. We know many positive stories about children exist, waiting to be shared with South African readers.