Sowetan is congratulated by the Media Monitoring Project (MMP) for Dudu Busani’s article on a teenager whose life and attitude provide proof that young people can play a positive role in society, and not be defined solely as victims of crime and abuse. Busani’s piece, “I will fight virus, Raped teen has positive outlook” (15/08/08, p. 13) is a break in the traditional pattern of reporting on children as passive victims of crime, and therefore helps to build more positive and realistic attitudes towards young people and their place in society.
The article covers the tragic history of a 16-year old who was raped as a child and who became HIV-positive as a result. However, the article is not devoted to this horrific incident. Busani also focuses on effects of the abuse on her life and the positive actions she is taking to deal with her status, including recognising that she has nothing to be ashamed about, and working towards achieving her dreams.
The young woman is quoted throughout the article, further enabling her voice and message to be heard.
MMP finds that young people are more often reported on in terms of abuse victims, rather than as positive role models and active citizens. Furthermore, when reporting on those who have suffered abuse, articles tend to focus solely on aspects of the abuse. They rarely explore the life of the victim as a survivor nor provide the young person’s perspective, in their own words.
Many examples of this can be found on MMP’s MADOAT website, accompanied by analysis of the articles. MMP has also produced reports on how children are represented in the media, illustrating these findings (see, for example, Children’s Views on the News, Media Monitoring Project, 2004) .
Articles such as Busani’s are important for readers to see more regularly. Both adult and young readers can learn through these stories that young people can also play active, positive roles in society, even if they have suffered trauma and abuse.
More specifically, these articles challenge notions regarding the lives and capacities of those who are HIV-positive, be they adults or children, by showing that they can lead healthy and productive lives. In the context of reporting on HIV/AIDS, the young woman’s story disputes stereotypes of children as AIDS orphans, or as needing to suffer a positive status in shame and silence. This is in line with a number of ethical guidelines for reporting on HIV/AIDS and children (see MMP, CI, CSSR, & Wits (2005) “Reporting on Children in the Context of HIV/AIDS” and the Southern Africa Editors Forum (SAEF) Guiding Principles for Ethical Reporting of HIV and AIDS & Gender).
While MMP commends Busani and Sowetan for this article, attention needs to be drawn to two points that would have improved the story and shown the full respect due to the young woman.
Firstly, the article states, “Although she is intelligent beyond her years, Madikane, like every child her age, has innocent and naïve dreams.” This is made in reference to her dream to complete her studies and work in a bank.
The statement may have been made carelessly, or may be indicative of an underlying (and wrong) assumption about the young woman’s capacity to attain such a position. In either case, there is no evidence in the article to indicate why such a wish would be impossible for the young woman to achieve. To call the young woman’s dreams “naïve” undermines not only the young woman herself but also the dreams and abilities of other young people who may be read the article.
The second point that concerns MMP is the detailing and questioning of the young woman regarding her abuse. It does not appear necessary to the article to provide details. Busani states that the young woman is more comfortable talking about her HIV status than her abuse. In addition to being only 16 years of age, and therefore still officially a child, the young woman is also the survivor of a horrific trauma. In cases such as these, reporters should exercise great caution and sensitivity when conducting interviews and writing their stories, particularly as it does not appear necessary for the story. Questioning around details of the young woman’s abuse and their repeat in the article, appears ill advised and insensitive. MMP has developed ethical guidelines 1 in relation to interviewing children, which we hope all journalists will read and adhere to.
These points withstanding, MMP would like to see more articles of this kind which portray children as active survivors, rather than passive victims, and help to challenge the stigma of HIV and child abuse.
NB. It is important to note that in covering cases of sex abuse, and HIV, reporters do need to be especially careful to ensure that there is informed consent from the victim/survivor to reveal their identities. This is especially important where children are concerned, who may not be in the position to make an informed judgment. In this case, given the child’s age and apparent maturity, and decision to be open to the public about her status, this does not appear to be an issue.
1. MMP & UNICEF. 2003. “All sides of the story. Reporting on children: A journalist’s handbook”. UNICEF and the Media Monitoring Project.