Blanket ban on identification of child victims 'unrealistic' - media

2017-02-09 22:08
The woman accused of kidnapping Zephany Nurse leaves the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24, file)

The woman accused of kidnapping Zephany Nurse leaves the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24, file)

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Pretoria - A blanket ban on the identification of child victims and offenders in the media would be unrealistic and interfere with freedom of expression, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Thursday.

Wim Trengove, SC, representing 12 media houses, including Media24, argued that the Child Justice Act already protected children and that such a ban did not exist anywhere in the world.

The court case stemmed from the Zephany Nurse kidnapping. The media threatened to reveal her identity, and an urgent application had to be brought to prevent that from happening.  

That led to a bigger case brought by Centre for Child Law (CCL), Childline, Nicro and Media Monitoring Africa as well as Zephany, who is referred to as KL in the court papers, the CCL says in its papers.

Trengove, arguing against the ban, said the media had agreed that all children should be protected.

Identifying child victims or offenders should, however, be done on a case-by-case basis.

A proposed blanket ban on identifying child victims would mean that whenever a robbery or kidnapping occurred, the names of those involved could not be made public. Similarly, it would be hard for newspapers to name the victims of accidents or hijackings, he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the CCL argued that child victims or offenders suffered embarrassment, shame and trauma if they were named in the media.

CATCH up on all the Zephany Nurse stories here

Shame

Steven Budlender, for the CCL, argued that child victims or offenders would suffer harm if named in the media after they turned 18.

"Why should the child suffer shame because they have been victims of crime?" Budlender asked.

"The respondents say sometimes identification is in the interest of the child, but there is no evidence from victims saying, 'I was named and now I am blossoming'. There is no evidence from the police that when we name children in the media we would be able to crack the crime.

"Nothing proves that identifying children benefits them," Budlender said.

He argued that the media interpreted the protections offered by the law as ending when a child turned 18. However, they should be protected beyond the age of 18.

Budlender said an urgent court application had to be brought to stop the media from identifying kidnap victim Zephany Nurse’s real name.

Certain newspapers threatened to publish her identity as soon as she turned 18. Zephany's life was splashed across the media and media houses did nothing to protect her identity, he said.

"This is not about preventing coverage. All my clients seek is that we create a default position where there is no reporting on identity. The identification of children when they turn 18 harms them.”

The names of child victims should not be revealed unless a judge or magistrate granted permission, he said.

'Damaged by publicity'

Zephany was kidnapped while her mother slept in Groote Schuur Hospital in 1997, just days after her birth. In August 2016, her kidnapper was sentenced to, in effect, 10 years behind bars for kidnapping, fraud, and contravening the Children’s Act.

The woman was arrested in February 2015. Zephany's true identity was revealed when her biological sister, who is four years younger, told her parents that a matric girl at her school bore a striking resemblance to her and her parents.

DNA tests confirmed the teenager was Zephany. Now 19, she is living in Steenberg, Cape Town, with the man she thought was her father.

Budlender also made reference to the man who was acquitted in May 2012 of the murder of right wing leader Eugene Terre'Blanche.

He said, at the time of his arrest, the man was 15. When he turned 18, his name was made public. What made that case worse was that the youth was acquitted.

"Child victims are damaged by publicity," Budlender said.

Budlender argued that the Press Code did not help. He said social media could also be used to identify child victims.

The case continues.

- News24 is a part of the 24.com division which falls under Media24.

Read more on:    media24  |  judiciary  |  media

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