Two articles “[XXXX*]’s son in paternity row” (Saturday Star, 19/03/2011, p.3) and “Not so fast, [XXXX*]!” (Sunday World, 03/04/2011, p.6) may well be interesting to the public but are certainly not in the public interest. More significantly, the articles are not in the best interests of the children whose parents are being reported on. For these reasons, Saturday Star and Sunday World get a MAD.

(*XXXX = MMA has removed the name of the person to protect the children concerned)

Both articles are about famous people involved in paternity rows. They are ‘famous’ in that one is a son of a public figure while the other is a marathon gold medallist.

It is clear that newspapers have a responsibility to report on all matters that are in the public interest but recognising the economic pressures that newspapers operate under, it is to be expected that stories which are of interest to the public will also be published.  MMA argues however, that if newspapers do decide to publish stories that are of interest to the public but not necessarily in the public interest, they should do so in ways that respect and protect the dignity of the people, and especially children, involved.

It would be difficult to see how both Saturday Star and Sunday World could reasonably argue that the focus of these stories and the people they report on – one of whom is only a “public figure” by extension – are legitimately in the public interest and not just interesting to the public therefore, merely serving to sell newspapers.

In the Saturday Star and Sunday World articles, both parents are named thereby indirectly identifying the children caught in the middle of the paternity claims. No matter how newsworthy the stories are, it is not in the best interests of the children to be identified either directly or indirectly, as they may be shunned as ‘illegitimate’  children and are involved in paternity claims where both their mothers are seeking maintenance payments in court. The children are therefore protected under the Maintenance Act 99 of 98.

Section 36 of the Act states:
“No person shall publish in any manner whatsoever the name or address of any person under the age of 18 years who is or was involved in any proceedings at a maintenance enquiry or the name of his or her school or any other information likely to reveal the identity of that person.” This Act is backed by Section 28(2) of the Constitution which states that “the best interests of the child are paramount in all matters concerning the child.”

There can be little doubt that gossip and stories about the private lives of famous people make great weekend news. Clearly however, the news should not be at the expense of children’s dignity and privacy.