Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) awards a GLAD to The Post for not identifying two children who are witnesses and victims in a case of abuse.
The story, “Murder accused mom ‘did not like child’”, published via IOL (26/08/2018) describes the case of a mother and a grandmother who stand accused of multiple charges of child abuse, sexual assault and murder. The court proceedings follow after the woman’s three-year-old daughter was discovered dead in her home four years ago. It is alleged that the toddler, referred to as Baby X in the article, was repeatedly beaten by her mother with a high-heeled shoe, denied food and eventually tied to the bed. Thereafter, it is reported that a plastic packet was placed over the toddler’s head allegedly at the hands of her grandmother. Although the grandmother is the co-accused in the case, she is reported to have died in jail in April of this year.
The article details the years of alleged abuse and torture that the three-year-old, her then 11-year-old brother and eight-year-old sister endured at the hands of their mother and grandmother. This includes reportedly being struck with a leather belt, a ruler and shoes, and being repeatedly burned with cigarettes. According to the story, they were also denied medical attention, despite the severity of their injuries. The older siblings were also forced to beg for money on the streets of Durban’s Central Business District. In the story, the State prosecutor argues that the mother perpetuated many of the abuses herself, and was complicit in the murder of her daughter. The defence counsel argues, rather, that the children were legally in the foster care of their grandmother and the mother therefore did not have legal rights over the children. Judgement by the Durban High Court, where the case is being heard, is expected in September, 2018.
This is without a doubt, an incredibly harrowing story. Not only does this showcase the level of violence, cruelty and neglect experienced by some of South Africa’s children, it also reveals how all too often these abuses are carried out by the very people who are entrusted to care for and look after them. Importantly, this article goes above standard reporting practice and it exemplifies ethical coverage as it undertakes to actively protect the children involved. In this case, the journalist, Nadia Khan refers to the toddler as Baby X and this is seemingly done to protect the identities of the other siblings. The journalist even states in the article saying, “the 3-year-old girl […] cannot be named, as her minor siblings are also alleged victims”. Here, although the rights of the baby herself are no longer in force because she is deceased, the fact that the journalist proactively sought to protect her two minor siblings is to be widely commended. She also does not name the mother or grandmother and, the accompanying photograph conceals the mother’s face.
This practice of protecting the identity of child witnesses is in line with Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act (number 51 of 1977) which states that “No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity … of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years”.
In addition, it follows MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media which state that, “In all stories in which a child has been involved in a crime, either as a witness, victim or perpetrator, unless exceptional circumstances prevail and then only if there is informed consent from the child involved and the child’s caregiver, the child’s identity will not be revealed either directly or indirectly”.
These laws and guidelines have been specifically developed to protect children from potential trauma, secondary victimisation and/or retribution that can come from being identified in the media.
We therefore applaud the efforts taken by the journalist and The Post not only on reporting on a critical South African story, but for covering it in such a sensitive and ethical manner. We look forward to reading many more stories that take this wonderful child-centred and child’s best interest approach!
By Sarah Findlay
 A GLAD refers to an article where the rights and welfare of children have been promoted.
 Criminal Procedure Act (1977). http://www.justice.gov.za/legislation/acts/1977-051.pdf