Too much information can harm.

The media’s main responsibility is gathering and reporting the news to the public. In the same breath, the media carry the responsibility to protect and safeguard the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable, including children. Media monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD[1] to IOL for failing to protect a child’s dignity and failing to adhere to journalist ethics.

The article titled, “Boy, 9, tortured by electrocution and waterboarding in Klapmuts, three men arrested” (08/02/2024) reports on a nine-year-old boy who was tortured by three men, after he was accused of stealing a cell phone. The incident was filmed by the perpetrators and went viral on social media platforms.

Although the story does not publish the identity of the boy, the way the story was reported shows that the journalist gave little regard to the child’s best interest.  This story provides graphic details of how the boy was tortured and the inhumane methods of torture that were used by the three men, for example, it describes, “The man in the white vest then takes the clamps, sticks the boy’s fingers in it and asks if he is ready, to tell the truth.” This type of graphic reporting comes short of the ethics of journalism. According to the Press Council code under Violence, Graphic Content states “The media shall exercise due care and responsibility when presenting brutality, violence and suffering”[2]

What is even more problematic, it’s the photographs that accompany some of the materials that were used to torture that boy. This boy had endured a traumatic experience that is likely to take time to go away, so publishing some of these things may prolong the healing process, for example, a Household rubbish bin might be a constant reminder to the boy about the trauma. This will lead to an emotional healing journey that can be challenging and painful for the child.

While the journalist made some effort to conceal the identity of the child, the community where he comes from is a small community called Klapmuts in the Western Cape, where chances are many people know each other. Publishing such insensitive information might lead to people wanting to know both victims and perpetrators, which will render the concealing of identity by journalists not having achieved.

To publish in such detail, the extent of the child’s injuries is insensitive and fails to recognize his rights to dignity and privacy. The descriptions provided may shock or elicit sympathy from readers, but that is neither a sufficient reason to publish them, nor a fair representation of this young woman who is not merely a victim but also a survivor.

The story at large violates the MMA Editorial Guideline[3], which states, “Always respect children’s dignity and well-being. The dignity and rights of every child are to be respected in every circumstance”.

MMA urges all journalists that when telling a story about a child who survived a traumatic experience, it is essential that the journalist considers the future potential negative impact the story could have on the child and works to minimise harm.

Written By Ntsako Manganyi

Edited by Ntombifuthi Kubeka

[1] a MAD is given to the media for irresponsibly reporting on a child.