Identifying a child who has been a victim of physical abuse is not only ethically problematic but it is against the law. It is very worrying then that The Times did just that in its article “Video enrages parents” (The Times, 16/09/2010, p.2)

The story deals with allegations against a children’s day care centre where, it is alleged, children were physically abused. According to the article instances of abuse at the centre were recorded on video.

It is arguable that naming the day care centre at the heart of the allegations was in the public interest, especially when the allegations are so serious.

However, The Times went further and named two parents, who believed their child was physically abused at the centre. By naming the parents, The Times are indirectly identifying the infant, who is not only an alleged victim of physical abuse, but is a witness to a crime.  This was re-enforced by the article itself which reported that the parents in question “intend filing a complaint with police.”

Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act sets out clearly that “no person shall publish… information which reveals or may reveal the identity… of a witness at a criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”

The newspaper also published images from the alleged recordings of abuse at the day care centre. While the images are blurry making it difficult to identify the children, these are records of abuse.

Editors, sub editors and journalists must consider the impact that publishing images may have on the children involved. In this instance it may result in secondary trauma, and in order to minimise harm these images should not have been published.

An example of more responsible reporting on the same story was seen in Beeld “Video wys hoe seuntijie slae op sy enkels kry” (Beeld, 15/09/2020, p. 1). In this article parents of children are accessed but are not identified. Therefore no child was indirectly identified in this article.

Beeld also chose to publish an image of the legs and feet of a child playing in a park, rather than an image from the video. It did this despite the fact that it was stated in the article that Beeld also had a copy of the video.

MMA acknowledges that reporting on children is difficult, and respects reporting that exposes and aims to prevent child abuse. However all reporting must be consistent with the best interests of the child. This principle is contained in the United Nations Charter on the Right’s of the Child, the South African Constitution, the Children’s Act and Avusa’s own guidelines for reporting on children.

While it may be tempting to publish alleged evidence of child abuse, in order to support allegations and highlight the issue, journalists and editors must weigh up the consequences of publishing this material on a child or children. If there is a risk that publishing a name or an image may lead to secondary trauma or abuse, the newspaper must not do it.

MMA believes that The Times failed to act in the best interests of the children at this day care centre and for that reason its gets a MAD.