Children’s rights were violated in the articles “Stalked to Death” (05/05/2011, p.1 & 2) published inThe Times and “Three little girls bury their murdered mom” (Sunday Times, 08/05/2011, p.2), which reported on the murders of two women by their ex-partners.
Both articles indirectly and directly identified the children of one of the murder victims. One of the children involved was also further victimized when her presence at the crime scene was described using gratuitous and insensitive language.
“Stalked to death” was the first of the two to report that one of the victim’s children was found “holding her dead mother’s hand”. The article used phrases like “smashed” and “cracking her skull” to describe the murder act. The level of gratuitousness and graphic detail in this article is appalling and disrespectful to both the victim and her family. Furthermore it victimized and potentially further traumatized the child who was found at the crime scene and was described by a relative as “in deep shock”. The article also indirectly identified two other children from the victim’s previous relationship.
The second article, “Three little girls bury their murdered mom”, reported on the victim’s funeral and directly identified two children in the body of the article, in the photographs and also named them in the captions below. The photograph of one of the children – the victim’s 12-year-old niece – was particularly concerning as it was largely intrusive and violated the child’s right to privacy in her grieving moment, by showing her crying over her aunt’s coffin.
The article “Three little girls bury their murdered mom” generally invaded the privacy of the victim’s family and children by choosing to include quotes like “Mommy’s journey on earth is over” and telling us that one of the victim’s children “kept checking the gate at home and asking when her mother was coming home.” This type of language and choice of quotes are emotive and often misused by journalists to move readers and sensationalize the story. They are emotionally exploitative, insensitive and harmful to the children in question. Avusa’s Guidelines which bind both The Times and Sunday Times state: “We recognise that children’s rights to privacy and dignity deserve the highest degree of protection, and we undertake to respect these rights in every situation. We will maintain the highest possible ethical standards in reporting on children.”
Both articles should have protected these children’s identities and chosen not to include any details of one of the children’s presence at the crime scene. Although only 11-months-old, the child in question was a potential witness or at the least was involved as part of criminal proceedings and investigations therefore, identifying her also went against Avusa’s guidelines which state: “We will always protect the identities of children who have been victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse or exploitation; and those who have been charged or convicted of a crime or been a witness to a crime.”
In addition, Section 28 (2) of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution states: “The child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child”; and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Preamble) emphasises that the child must be protected from actual or potential harm, humiliation and stigmatisation.
MMA urges The Times and Sunday Times to adhere to their guidelines on reporting on children and other existing legislation for the protection of children, when reporting on children and in all cases where children are involved.