Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD to five of Times Media Group’s media outlets, namely Daily Dispatch, SowetanLive, TimesLive, Sowetan and Heraldlive for publishing stories in which children were directly or indirectly identified under risky circumstances as well as interviewing children about recent traumatic experiences.
In the first case, The Daily Dispatch published an article with an accompanying video entitled “Outrage as boy made to tour school naked” (06/10/2016) on their website. The same story was subsequently published both by SowetanLive (06/10/2016) and TimesLive (06/10/2016). The article recounts how a 10-year-old boy from the Eastern Cape was punished by his school principal for allegedly suspending another learner from a bridge. As punishment, the boy was forcibly stripped naked by other pupils and was compelled to visit every classroom in the school without any of his clothes. The video footage contains an interview with the child. The child was interviewed relaying the humiliation he had experienced and although the articles did not directly name the boy or any members of his family, he could potentially be identified indirectly through the naming of his school as well as directly through the video footage which did little to obscure his voice.
The second story, ‘Children held in gunpoint terror’ by HeraldLive (13/10/2016) reports on how two children aged seven and 15 were held up in their home in Port Elizabeth by robbers claiming to be municipal employees. The article details how the criminals gained entry into the house, dragged the older sibling to the main bedroom then bathroom and finally tells of how she managed to get the attention from a neighbour who called local security services. In this story, the 17-year-old was also extensively quoted and interviewed by the journalist. In addition, the children’s mother was both named and photographed, indirectly identifying both children, who are victims and witness to a crime.
The third article entitled ‘Survivor relives horrific accident after matric bash’ was published by Sowetan (05/10/2016, p. 5). The story centers on a 17-year-old learner, based in Mpumalanga, who survived a car accident which occurred as a group of pupils made their way home from their matric dance after-party. The accident, in which the car she was travelling in rolled multiple times before eventually landing on a construction site, saw three of her friends killed. In a pattern similar to the above mentioned articles, the surviving teenager was also interviewed about the tragic event.
We draw attention to the fact that interviewing children under any of the circumstances described above should have been avoided. Firstly, in all three cases there was no indication that consent had been granted by the primary caregiver of the children (or the children themselves) to conduct the interviews or to identify the children. This measure, as outlined in MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media, is specifically in place to safeguard against any further harm to the child and to ensure that the child’s best interests remain prioritised. Secondly, while we acknowledge the difficulties facing journalists in gathering accurate information for a story, a line should be drawn when an interview has the potential to subject the interviewed children to further trauma. In the cases described here, the children were made to relive the pain and anguish of their recent experiences. These actions not only go against MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media3, they also go against the Times Media Editorial Policy2which specifically states that employees will “…avoid questions or comments that could expose children to humiliation, embarrassment, grief or danger, or cause them to relive any trauma they may have experienced.”
Furthermore, we also note how in some instances mentioned above, due care should have been taken to conceal the identities of the children involved especially where the children were both victims and witnesses to unlawful acts. This, again is in line with Times Media Group which were clearly ignored in these instances and which state “…We will always protect the identities of children who have been victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse or exploitation; and those who have been charged or convicted of a crime or been a witness to a crime….”
While we recognise the critical importance of sharing these kinds of child-centred stories for much-needed public awareness and engagement on these issues, we encourage local journalists to follow the guidelines in place to ensure that the needs and the interests of children take precedence in any story.
By Sarah Findlay
 MADs refer to stories where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage
 See p.3 of MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media: https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/images/uploads/mma_editorial_guideline.pdf
 See p.5 of the Times Media Group Editorial Policy http://www.timesmedia.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Times-Media-Policy-Guide-November-2012.pdf Accessed on 12 October 2016.
*SowetanLive has since withdrawn the video and name of school from the article on their website.
*TimesLive too has withdrawn the video but the name of the school still remains on the article on their website
*DispatchLive has not withdrawn the video or name of the school from the article on their website
*HeraldLive has withdrawn the article from their website.
The following exchange took place between MMA and HeraldLive
The Herald and its staff are always mindful of the need to protect children. Stories that have children as subjects, particularly in vulnerable situations, are discussed at length and steps taken to mitigate harm. I accept that by identifying the victim’s mother, we indirectly expose the child to publicity, and that was a mistake. To ameliorate the situation, albeit belatedly, we have removed the picture from the website archive.
The interview with the teenager was conducted under the supervision of the guardian and with her express consent. It was handled with care. However, the point is taken that we, as media, have an onus to minimise trauma and this will certainly be at the forefront of our coverage of minors in future.
I thank MMA for keeping a watchful eye over our children and for reminding us of our duty to the public at large. Their input is valued and always welcome.
Thank you so much for your feedback and for removing the picture of the girl and her mother from your website. We note however that the mother’s name still appears in the article and we would like to request that this too be rectified to ensure that the we completely avoid indirectly indentifying the child and or her sibling.
We look forward to reading more child-centred stories from the Herald and are happy to hear that the best interests of children will be at the forefront of your newspaper’s coverage going forward.
No problem at all.