A MAD OAT Mad nomination is awarded to The Times for its article, “Uncle linked to murder” (18/06/09, p. 61), which identified and interviewed the young sister of a murder victim, soon after her trauma. The article reports how the dead body of the seven-year-old girl, who was raped and murdered, was found by her 11-year old sister and her friends, during a search.
The reporter interviews and clearly identifies the sister of the child who was murdered, who is also a minor.
The child’s right to privacy2 needs to be protected, given her vulnerability.
It is questionable whether it is in her best interests, as a child, to be interviewed by the media, especially at this early stage. She is likely to be traumatised from her experience and to be grieving for her sister. It is possible that interviewing the child may actually be harmful to her.
The Guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO) advise media professionals to “be sensitive to situations involving private grief” and to “respect the feelings of the bereaved”. This advice is especially poignant where children are concerned 3.
The reporter needs to take into account how the child may feel about having witnessed her sister’s dead body, the impact this may have had, and whether interviewing her is in her best interests.
It is unclear from the report whether the child is undergoing counseling, or receiving any other form of professional support.
Although the reporter is aware that the child is upset during the interview, as the article states “[ ]her 11 year-old sister, cried when she described the scene yesterday”4 , the reporter continues to interview her.
The UNICEF Guidelines for reporting on children advice: “Do no harm to any child; avoid questions, attitudes or comments that are judgmental, insensitive to cultural values, that place a child in danger or expose a child to humiliation or that reactivate a child’s pain and grief from traumatic events” [own italics].
The gruesome description of the child’s body was also very graphic and one would argue inappropriate and unnecessary as it did not enhance the story whatsoever.
The reporter needs to consider that the graphic description published of the little girl that was murdered may have an impact on her family, especially her older sister who discovered her body. The question of ethics again comes into question.
The media should always be extremely careful when reporting on children and always have their best interest at heart.
1 Media Monitoring Africa has concealed names in the article to protect the child’s right to privacy.
2 See UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project. 2003. All sides of the story. Reporting on children: A journalist’s handbook, p. 29.>
3 The right to protection of privacy is specified in Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which South Africa is a signatory to. For a summary see UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project. 2003. All sides of the story. Reporting on children: A journalist’s handbook, p. 64.
4 Media Monitoring Africa has concealed names in the article to protect the child’s right to privacy.