Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives Mail & Guardian (M&G) a MAD[1] for indirectly identifying children who are reported to have been bullied at school.

Principal puts lid on abuse” (M&G, 22/05/2021, p.7) which is written by Bongekile Macupe, reports about Limpopo provincial hearings held by the South African Human Rights Commission on bullying, corporal punishment and sexual relations between learners and teachers. In the story that is also published on the publication’s website, a mother narrates about her children being bullied and having to steal “pens from her handbag to placate bullies, who would otherwise take their money”.

It is commendable that M&G reports on such matters that have festered within South African schools, but MMA recommends that this must be done with utmost care as such reports require that the identification of the children involved be protected. M&G has named the mother of the victims in this story thereby indirectly identifying the victims.  In this case, the children could be subjected to even more bullying especially that the article mentions the names the children are called at school. Further, the children could fall prey to victimisation and intimidation.

In addition, by indirectly identifying the children, M&G contravened its own editorial policy which states in part, “We will take particular care to avoid harm to children. While it is important to seek out the views of children, we will not do anything that may expose them to abuse, discrimination, retribution, embarrassment, or any other risk. We will make sure that we consult with a parent or guardian about any impact our reporting may have on the child.”

The article does not indicate whether fully-informed consent was obtained from the parent and any child to be identified, indirectly or otherwise. Even if this is the case, MMA is of the view that journalists should exercise their duty to protect children by refraining from any action that might subject the children involved to any harm, including potential harm.

There have been numerous media reports identifying children who have been abused, despite clear protections afforded to children in the South African Constitution under the Bill of Rights Section 28 and other various frameworks that South Africa signed and ratified such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child[2] (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child[3] (ACRWC).

An MMA study about children’s rights in the media revealed that the media consistently violated the children’s right to protection in coverage. [4]

MMA, therefore, requests that M&G remove the mother’s identity from the article that appears on the publication’s website and replace it with pseudonyms. In addition, the decision to withdraw the identities should be explained to the readers.MMA strongly encourages M&G reporting on children to consistently represent the interests of children and to make efforts whenever possible to protect children especially those who are victims/witnesses to crimes and abuse.

By Musa Rikhotso

[1] MADs are given to journalists who have irresponsibly reported on children and compromised their rights and welfare




UPDATE: After a successful engagement with M&G, MMA is pleased to announce that the identity of the woman in the story has been withdrawn and an explanation for the decision to withhold her identity has been given.