Gang rape video asks questions of media

Johannesburg - The media's use of screen shots and audio clips from the video of a Soweto teenager being gang raped was "highly problematic", a media analyst said on Wednesday.

University of the Witwatersrand journalism professor Anton Harber said that while the media could argue that use of the images and audio were in the public interest, the footage should be used only with "extreme caution and sensitivity".

"However, it would be ludicrous to charge the media over this."

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said the NPA had "reservations" about use of the video by the media.

The material would be used as evidence when the matter went to court and could be compromised if it were published or broadcast.

He also warned the public against accessing the video, as it was child pornography.

"Possession [and] circulation of child pornography is a criminal offence and we won't hesitate to prosecute anyone arrested by the police."

The video was apparently filmed on a cellphone camera and depicted a 17-year-old girl being raped by at least seven males.

The girl, who was reported missing on March 25, was found in a house in Braamfischerville on Wednesday, said Warrant Officer Kay Makhubele.

He said a man found with the girl was arrested for her abduction, and there was a possibility that he could be charged with rape.

On Tuesday, five men and two boys matching the description of those in the video were arrested in Dobsonville.

Video went viral

On Wednesday, the video of the rape went "viral" and became one of the main topics trending on social networking site Twitter.

EyeWitnessNews (EWN) broadcast an audio clip of the rape video, with a warning to sensitive listeners, while the Daily Sun published a screen shot of the girl in a seated position, with men standing around her.

Film and Publications Board chief executive Yoliswa Makhasi said she was shocked and angered by members of the public who went looking for the video on social networking sites.

"We also urge the media not to publish links or explicit images emanating from the 'rape video'... due consideration for the protection of children from exposure to this kind of explicit and violent content must be considered and prioritised."

The Daily Sun published a picture of the teenager on its front page, but did not print the girl's name.

Harber said this was "highly problematic" as the girl was both a minor and a rape victim.

Daily Sun general manager Minette Ferreira defended the decision to use the images and said the girl's mother had given permission for use of the photograph.

"[The girl] had been missing since March. Her mother was desperately looking for her. We published the picture in an attempt to track her and subsequently, in half a day, we found her."

She said the newspaper had consulted its lawyers and the press ombudsman before printing the pictures.

A reader tipped off the newspaper after finding the rape video on her child's cellphone.

"We contacted the police immediately and worked with them until she was found. This morning we deleted the video from our system."

Ferreira said the Daily Sun chose the images carefully to avoid compromising the video evidence.

"In the still, the suspects are unidentifiable and there isn't anything macabre shown."

Public demand

EWN Editor-in-Chief Katy Katopodis said her news team carefully selected two five-second audio clips from the video.

"This is not something we entered into lightly.

"The clips we used were very short, edited and non-explicit... We tried to be as responsible and sensitive as possible."

She said EWN received a large number of requests from the public and other media houses for a link to the video, but refused.

"Our stance is very clear. We can't distribute something like this."

The video did not appear on the EWN website and was deleted from the company's computers.

Katopodis said the audio clips were intended to make the public aware of the "heinous" crime, and illustrated that it was rape rather than a consensual act.

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