The article “High school in racism drama” published in The Times (03/08/2010p.7) is one to be mad about. It reported on an alleged theft case at a school where racism has occurred. In this story a child, who was accused of the crime, was identified.

The child was accused of stealing money from his teacher. It was alleged that four white school boys hauled the boy out of his class in an attempt to find out where the teacher’s purse was. The four boys then allegedly threatened, body searched and verbally abused the boy in an attempt to find out where the purse was. The boy said that one of the white boys had called him a derogatory word, which he reported to the principle and, according to the report, nothing was done about it.

The report names the school that the child attends. It also appears to give the first name of the child in question and states that the he is the only black child in grade 10 at that school. As a result the child could be identified which is not in his best interest.

In addition, the child in question has been accused of theft, and is allegedly the victim of assault. Child victims and those accused of crimes are afforded special legal protection.

Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 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 age of 18 years.

Journalists need to be very careful when reporting on children, especially if there is a racial dimension to the story.  Children are the most vulnerable members of our society and as such are afforded special protection in legislation, in our constitution, and in the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child. In addition, South Africa’s history of racial segregation and marginalisation requires media to demonstrate a high level of sensitivity when covering race related stories, especially when children are involved.

Journalist Harriet McLea responded:

Both children agreed, with their parents permission too, to be named and identified in the article. They were given the opportunity not to be named but both said that they wanted to be identified. They spoke to The Times in the presence of their godfather (in the one case) and their mother (in the other case).

[MMA clarification: Two children were mentioned in the article, however MMA felt that only one, the subject of the MAD, was identifiable.]