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Protecting identities of children in the media: Two notable examples

22 June 2016

This week, Media Monitoring Africa, is pleased to award a GLAD to both IOL and The Star.
In these two articles, “Girl to testify on rape by ‘Springs Monster’ dad” The Star (24/05/2016, p. 2) and “Boy’s reign of terror at Cape Town school” IOL (17/05/2016), the best interests of the children involved were taken to heart as they were purposively and explicitly not identified.
 
In “Girl to testify on rape by ‘Springs Monster’ dad” the journalist, Zelda Venter, provides an update on court proceedings involving a man and a woman who have been charged with “severely abusing and neglecting their five children”. The article reports that the girl (16), the eldest of four siblings, was raped by her father and was due to testify against her parents. The mother is not named and the article specifies that she “cannot be identified to protect the identity of her children”.

In the second article, “Boy’s reign of terror at Cape Town school” the journalist, Ilse Fredericks, describes circumstances under which a 12-year-old boy has been charged with common assault by his teacher. According to the article, there have been multiple complaints laid against the Grade 6 pupil in previous years from both teachers and fellow pupils. The Western Cape Education Department had also been informed about the new charge. In this case, the school was not identified in order “to protect the identity of the pupil”. Equally, no other person involved (teacher, parents, fellow pupils) were named.

In each of these stories, we commend the journalists and their editors for the necessary lengths taken in not identifying the children involved. Under our constitution, it is recognised that children are a particularly vulnerable group and that they deserve special protection and consideration across all sectors, including the media. Within this framework, the South African Press Code (Section 8.3) outlines that the press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse as in the story by The Star or those who have been charged with a crime as in the second story by IOL. These measures also include not naming any other people (e.g. parents, teachers) or institutions (e.g. schools) associated with the children that may allow for their indirect identification. In both instances outlined above, all efforts were made to avoid such a situation.

We applaud the authors and their publications on their deliberate and conscious reporting on these child-related stories. We look forward to reading future articles that are equally cognizant of how best to continually secure the protection of children in the media. 

By Sarah Findlay. 

1 On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”

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