Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is appalled at the level of carelessness displayed by News24 and IOL in coverage of crime involving children. The stories, both published within a pace of a week, indirectly and directly identify the children thereby compromising their safety. The callous reporting of these stories has earned the two media a MAD.[1] 

Boy, 4, left soaked in blood after mother’s throat slit by intruders in KZN” (News24, 07/09/2019) reports on a child who witnessed his mother’s murder in Pietermaritzburg. According to the story, the child was home alone with his mother when unknown people broke in and killed his mother by slitting her throat and stabbing her multiple times. Other than the mention of an investigation, the story does not report further information relating to any arrests. The child is identified through his father and his deceased mother. His minder has also been identified in the story.

IOL’s story, “Family forcefully removed from their RDP home live in fear of mob’s return” (13/09/2020) tells the story of a family that has reportedly been evicted from their house a number of times by a known mob in Alexandra township. According to the story, the family has reported the case to the area police station a few times, seeking help, but to no avail. The article states that the family representative says the mob threatens to shoot him every time its members pass him by. The story also reports that the family lives in fear of the mob returning and that the children are even scared to play outside the house. The children are identified through their parents who are both named as well as through a photograph accompanying the article. The photograph shows the family sitting together with the children closer to the camera. Three arrests have been made, according to the story.

Identifying children who are involved in crime related stories is particularly problematic, unethical and is highly irresponsible reporting by journalists. By doing so, journalists and media put children at risk of being harmed, especially when they are potential witnesses at criminal proceedings. That these two stories involve perpetrators, some of whom are still at large should have made News24 and IOL cautious in their reporting.

Section 154(3 of the Criminal Procedure Act), which both media have grossly flouted is in place to protect children from being subjected to potential harm that can be caused through identifying children in such stories. The Section states, as ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018, “No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”

News24 has also flouted the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media while IOL has flouted its own Press Code.

Clause 8.1 of the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media explicitly urges the media to “exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children.” The Section of the Code goes on to state, “If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest is evident.”

IOL’s Press Code which states in Section 3, “Whenever the identity of a child is disclosed, whether pictorially or in print – 3.1. The statutory restrictions on the naming or identification of children shall be observed and adhered to; 3.2 The interests of the privacy and the reputation of the child shall be considered and, where necessary, protected; 3.3 The permission of the parent or guardian of any child shall be sought in all cases where the identity of the child is to be disclosed; 3.4 Even if the parent or guardian consents to disclosure of identity of a child, Independent Online shall exercise a cautious discretion, if it may be harmful to the child to publish the identity of the child.”

Neither article indicates whether fully informed consent was obtained from anyone to identify the children. MMA argues that even where consent is obtained, the media should exercise its duty of acting in the child’s best interest by protecting the child. This includes not identifying the children even where the parents or guardians have given permission. The child’s best interest principle is enshrined in Section 28.2 of the South African Bill of Rights.

Additionally, there is no public interest in knowing the identities of the children in these stories.

MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media advise the media by stating, “Always hide a child’s identity where the child might be at risk. No stories or images will be published that might put the child, siblings or peers at risk even when identities are changed, obscured or not used.”

We are requesting that both News24 and IOL withdraw the parents’ identities from the articles and instead use pseudonyms to protect the children. We further ask that the photographs accompanying the articles be edited to not visibly show the faces of the children or their parents. Further, an explanation should be given to the media’s audience as to why the decision to withdraw the identities was taken.

We look forward to reading more cautiously reported stories of children in future.

By Lister Namumba

[1] A MAD is given to media who irresponsibly report on children

UPDATE: IOL has since withdrawn the photograph showing the children from the article. The media has also taken other steps to ensure that the children are not identified in the article.