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‘The media must stop violating us’ – children

Two primary school children, just one year short of being teen-agers, braved the small crowd of adults at Wits University to speak on behalf of fellow South African children. Their presentation at the start of hearings by the Press Council of South Africa highlighted the mistakes done by the media when covering children who have been abused, raped, harmed physically, emotionally, and so on. Citing examples but not naming where the stories originated from, the children decried a tendency in some media to expose the identity of children who have suffered abuse.

“They took a picture, but they blurred it. But they mentioned the child’s father and mother, which indirectly… if you know the child, you know that it’s him or her. That’s one of the examples of abuse”, said Brendan Molotsi, a Grade Seven leaner at Park Senior Primary School, in Johannesburg.

“They showed the child’s shadow and the child’s mother. They mentioned the child’s mother’s name, where the child stays, the age and what school that child goes to. So, obviously, children from that school who see that picture will obviously identify that child and know who that child is”, added fellow pupil, Michaela Lakay.

Both argue that exposing the identity of an abused child is in itself abusing the child further and could have negative consequences.

“If that child is schooling and if that child has to go to school, he or she will be very embarrassed and would not want to go to school – would just want to stay at home (and) lock the door”, Michaela said.

Brendan agreed, saying: “It’s bad to be abused and even worse to be laughed at for being abused. Like boys… basically, us boys are made to look like the strong types, the guys who feel no pain. But abuse does not discriminate, whether boy, girl, race, colour. So, once you’re abused and you’re a boy you’re a laughing stock. Why couldn’t you fight back? Why couldn’t you do this?… when you were merely just put in that position”.

Head of the Children’s Programme at Media Monitoring Africa, Ronell Singh, says exposing the identity of children who have suffered abuse in the media could have long-term effects on their well-being and development.

“The impact is huge. When the media makes a mistake by identifying a child it lives with them long after the story has died. So, if a story is published today 10 years down the line or 20 years down the line, the repercussions of the story could still affect the child. The child could still be known as the one who was raped and, maybe, isn’t married today because of that stigma that is attached. The same goes for emotional abuse. I think when we think of abuse, we always think of physical abuse. If a child is emotionally abused and if he is identified in the media, then that also sticks with the child and might need psychological help in the future”, Singh said.

Michaela and Brendan appealed to the Press Council to consider their concerns to add to the Press Code. The Press Code is a set of rules or guidelines that journalists or reporters must abide to in their work as they gather news and information and opinion. The children believe that their submission to the council will help encourage responsible and humane reporting where they are concerned.

“They must protect our rights because we have the right to dignity, to participation, freedom of speech, privacy. They must protect those rights”, said Michaela.

Brendan added that “the Constitution regards us as special people, in a special group, with rights. But the Press Code, of course, does not do that. So, we’re trying to tell them that they should improve the Press Code in order for them to stop violating children’s rights”.

The two were part of a 60 member group from three primary schools in Johannesburg that wrote a submission to the Press Council which is holding hearings for the review of the Press Code and discussions around the proposed formation of a Media Appeals Tribunal.

Source: Health-e News , By Khopotso Bodibe

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