Media should not identify child victims and offenders after they turn 18, court hears

2017-02-09 15:33
Morne Nurse speaks to reporters outside the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24, file)

Morne Nurse speaks to reporters outside the Western Cape High Court. (Tammy Petersen, News24, file)

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Pretoria - Child victims or offenders suffer embarrassment, shame and trauma after the media reveals their names, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Thursday.

Advocate Steven Budlender, representing the Centre for Child Law, argued in court that when the media names child victims or offenders after they turn 18, it harms them.

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

The court case stems from the Zephany Nurse kidnap matter which was heard in 2016.

The case is brought by the Centre for Child Law, Childline, Nicro, Media Monitoring Africa and Zephany, who is referred to as KL in the court papers.

The respondents are 12 media houses including Media24.

No proof of benefits

"The [respondent] 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 interprets the protections offered by the law as ending when the child turns 18 years old, however, they should be protected beyond the age of 18.

Budlender said when the media threatened to reveal the identity of kidnap victim Zephany, an urgent application had to be brought to prevent that from happening.

He said certain newspapers threatened to publish her identity as soon as she turned 18.

Budlender said Zephany's life was splashed across the media. He said media houses did nothing to protect her identity.

Court's permission

"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."

He said names of child victims should not be revealed unless a judge or magistrate grants permission.

Zephany was kidnapped while her mother slept just days after giving birth. The woman who kidnapped her was sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

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

DNA tests confirmed the teenager was Zephany. The kidnapper, however, said she got the baby from a woman called Sylvia, who had been giving her fertility treatment in 1997 after she had miscarried.

Zephany, now 19, currently lives in Steenberg with the man she thought was her father.

Social media

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

He said at the time of his arrest, the man was 15 years old. When he reached 18, his name was made public, he said.   

"He was acquitted of the murder and that makes it worse because despite that the media published his name and pictures and no one heard of him ever... child victims are damaged by publicity."

Budlender also argued that the press code does not help. He said social media could also be used to identify child victims.

The matter adjourned for lunch.

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

Read more on:    media24  |  judiciary

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