With more than 17 years’ experience in monitoring the media, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) can safely say that all too often the media fail to link isolated stories to the broader picture. With this in mind, the article “Mother wins R16m from health MEC” (Sunday Times, 27/02/2011, p7) by Prega Govender gets a GLAD for not only protecting the identity of a child who was a victim of medical negligence but for linking the implications of a seemingly isolated story to broader society.

The article is about a mother who was awarded R16-million in damages to help take care of her son who is permanently disabled after medical staff bungled his birth. After spending 24 hours in labour at a hospital in the Eastern Cape, the mother requested an emergency caesarean or to be transferred to another hospital.

The nurses did not heed the mother’s request and as a result, her son suffers from permanent quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy and epilepsy. This was caused by oxygen deprivation during his mother’s prolonged labour and the nurses’ refusal to perform a caesarean. The mother sued the former Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for health in the Eastern Cape for negligence.

The newspaper took a conscious decision to protect the identity of the child by stating that “the [mother’s] identity is being withheld to protect her child.” The article also carried a photograph that makes it impossible to identify both the mother and child.

MMA’s guidelines on reporting on children state that revealing or protecting the identity of the child when telling children’s stories may not always be clearly legal or illegal. Hence it should be determined on a case-by-case basis within an ethical and human rights framework.

Protecting the identity of the child in a case that involves a large payout such as R16-million also minimises the risk of the money being diverted to other uses other than for the child’s care as extended family members or friends may ask for money from the mother after learning about it in the media.

Apart from protecting the identity of the child, the article also linked the case to the broader picture by drawing the reader’s attention to examples of medical negligence, including failure to:
• Properly assess and examine patients on admission; and
• Track the foetal heart rate and maternal contractions.

It also included quotes from an expert who articulated that the money being paid to the mother could have been used to upgrade South Africa’s healthcare system had it not been needed to compensate for medical negligence.

Whether politicians learn from this case is another issue, but it brings to the fore some of the failures of the country’s healthcare system. It also shows how one incident of negligence can affect the entire healthcare system.

By linking this seemingly isolated case of medical negligence to the broader picture, the Sunday Times informs the readers about patients’ rights, thereby aiding an informed citizenry.

We look forward to more stories reported in a manner consistent with the best interests of the child from the Sunday Times.