Media should play its role as duty bearers when reporting on issues involving a child who is a victim and witness to a crime and, ensure that the children are never put at risk. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives Weekend Argus a MAD for an article directly identifying a child therefore putting her life and well-being on the line.
The article is titled, “Father breaks down, says he failed his children after son is killed during shootout” (07/03/2021) and reports on a 10-year-old child who is a victim of a shooting and still recovering at the hospital. According to the article, the child was with her young brother, who died on the scene when the shootout happened. The journalist directly identifies the child by naming her, naming her parents and her deceased brother.
Identifying the child is unethical and unlawful. Weekend Argus grossly violated the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154(3) which states that; “No person shall publish in any manner whenever 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.”
The journalist’s reckless reporting puts the child at risk by disclosing her identity as a victim and a witness to a crime and also exposing the hospital she is in. This potentially subjects her to further harm such as being harmed to stop her from being a witness against the perpetrators.
The article quotes a neighbour who is reported to have asked not to be named and they say, “Two men in balaclavas were seen running from the area and, knowing how things work in this area, someone knows them, but they are scared to come forward with information because they will be targeted [.]”
This information should have made the journalist extra cautious not to identify the child directly or otherwise as her safety is compromised by virtue of identifying her and naming the hospital she is in.
MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media urge the media to refrain from identifying children in such instances stating, “Even when you are trying to tell people about harm to children or another children’s issue or promote children’s rights, you always need to protect the best interest of the individual child.”
Independent Media’s own Press Code to which Weekend Argus subscribes states in Section three that “Whenever the identity of a child is disclosed, whether pictorially or in print – The statutory restrictions on the naming or identification of children shall be observed and adhered to. The interests of the privacy and the reputation of the child shall be considered and, where necessary, protected. 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. 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.”
Therefore, by not exercising a “cautious discretion” and going ahead to identify the child, Weekend Argus violated its own Press Code and potentially subjected the child to harm.
MMA requests Weekend Argus to withdraw the identity of the child, her brother’s and her parents from the article and rather use pseudonyms. We also request that an explanation be given to readers as to why the decision to withdraw was taken.
We urge Weekend Argus and other media to be careful when reporting on child victims and potential witnesses at criminal proceedings.
MMA looks forward to seeing more ethical and responsible reporting on children.
By Yinhla Ngobeni
 MADs are given to media for irresponsibly reporting on children and compromising their safety
UPDATE: MMA is pleased to report that after a successful engagement with Weekend Argus, the publication withdrew the identities of the family and provided an explanation saying the action was taken to protect the injured girl in line with the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3).