Although public interest surrounding the Kenwyn teen who attempted to join the Islamic State (ISIS) has largely declined, the case has brought about concerns as to how much information the media should be allowed to divulge when reporting on stories involving children.
The City Press has come under particular fire in this regard, after being found guilty of providing enough information that would have allowed the public to deduce the identity of the young girl. The paper has since been ordered to issue a front page apology, which first would need to be approved by the press ombudsman. The case is reported to be the first violation of the Bill of Rights on children’s privacy, and section 8.1 of the new Press Code.
Whilst the case could be construed as being in the interest of the South African public, Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird highlighted that the girl remained in the formative and developmental years of her youth, and would thus be prone to making such a decision that would be regrettable later in life.
.This put the onus on the media to show greater ethical care when dealing with such stories. But Bird suggested a case of media often trying to ‘push the boundaries’.
“I’m not suggesting City Press deliberately did that, but it is clear from the story that they gave a lot of information that would have enabled people to identify her,” he suggested.
He noted that one of the few situations where media would have some level of legitimacy in this regard was if the information was imperative in informing the public as to how such radicals groups operated or recruited. In the same breath, he acknowledged that knowing the actual identity of the girl could be ‘fundamentally dangerous’.
“The critical thing is drawing a distancing between what’s of interest to the public, and what’s in the public’s interest,” he said.
Whilst the media has come under severe criticism during this specific case, social media has also been somewhat rampant in revealing extensive information. With the girl having been reported missing a few days prior to her ‘interception’ by authorities, reports indicate that some information, including an image of her face, may have been pasted across social media in a desperate attempt to find her.
“If it applies to the media then as a general rule, citizens should assume that it is going to apply to them as well. The same rules that apply outside of social media, also apply on social media,” he stressed.
Another case that has brought about similar concerns is that of ‘Zephany Nurse’, a 17-year old teen who was recently reunited with her biological family having been abducted at birth at Groote Schuur Hospital. Her actual name has also been withheld by media in order to protect her identity.
In her case, the media could legally be allowed to divulge her name in the next few months once she has turned 18. But Bird argued as to why the teen need be penalized and have her privacy infringed, for the mere fact that she would now be of age to have her name revealed.
With nurse having reportedly informed her lawyers her wish to not have her true identity revealed, Bird said it was important the media respect this wish. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)