Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives The Witness a MAD for publishing an image of a two-year-old boy showing him tied by the neck to a pallet reportedly by his grandmother. The publishing of this image grossly violates the child’s right to dignity due to its humiliating and degrading nature. It further reveals the identity of a child victim of abuse and exposes the child to potential secondary trauma. Therefore, this article gets a MAD as it is not in the best interest of the child.
The article titled, “Police rescue two-year-old boy tied to leash in Durban” published on the News24 website but written by The Witness (02/09/2021) reports that the child from eZimbokodweni, South of Durban was found by police after a tip off from neighbours who saw the boy tied to a leash by his grandmother who had gone to the shops. The police confirm in the article that the Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit has taken over investigations and the child would be put in a place of safety.
The journalist interviews the local ward councillor, Thabisile Zungu who is quoted saying, “I received a call from neighbours alerting me about the incident…. I think she tied him up so that he would not be milling around in the neighbourhood.”
Although the journalist makes an effort to withhold the names of the child victim, his siblings and the grandmother, publishing the image of the child victim tied to the pallet outside his home is highly problematic for three main reasons.
The first and most critical reason is that it is a direct violation of the child’s right to dignity. This image is humiliating because it shows a human being tied up like an animal. Human dignity is the first value mentioned in the founding provisions of the South African Constitution. Everyone should be afforded dignity including this child. “The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values: (a) Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms….”
By publishing the image, The Witness has further perpetuated the humiliation that was already inflicted on the child by his grandmother.
Secondly, the article mentions that the abuse is under investigation and could potentially be a criminal case, meaning that the journalist failed to uphold their ethical and legal obligation to protect the identity of a child victim. This goes against the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3), which states that children who are accused of crime, are victims or are witnesses at criminal proceedings should not be directly or indirectly identified. This Section was ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018 to include the protection of victims.
The third reason is that the image does not add value to the story and only serves to potentially cause further trauma to both the abused child and to his siblings who, according to the article lived with him. The journalists could have opted to give the reader a full description of the abuse or taken a picture of the leash without the child being tied to it. These two options would still have been powerful ways of telling this very important, yet traumatic and humiliating story.
These three reasons highlight that the journalist did not fully consider the dignity and best interests of the child in telling this important story, and as such we strongly encourage The Witness to consider MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media which state that, “Even where you are trying to tell people about harm to children or another children’s issue or promote children’s rights, you always need to respect the best interests of the individual child. The best interest of each child needs to be protected over any consideration.”
We look forward to more ethical reporting from The Witness.
Written by Phakamile Khumalo
by George Kalu
 A MAD is given to media who irresponsibly report on children
 http://22.214.171.124/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/mma_editorial_guideline.pdf (See page 2)
The following is the response to the commentary from The Witness;
The Witness takes note of Media Monitoring Africa’s concerns and wishes to categorically state that there was no malicious intent behind the publishing of the image in question. We believed the child could not be identified from that picture. We would never deliberately violate the rights of children and victims of abuse or humiliate them in any way.
The sole intention of the publication of that image was to highlight the abuse that takes place in our communities.
The Witness remains committed to ethical journalism as well as the protection of rights of children and victims of abuse.