Protecting Human Rights in Crime Coverage

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The 16 days of activism campaign against woman and child abuse began on the international day of elimination of violence against women on the 25th November.  In preparation for this time, one could expect that media would be creating greater awareness of gender based violence and the social consequences thereof.  However, the Daily Sun in their article on Monday 20 November 2006, page 3 not only does not address the issues, but seems to promote vigilantism.  The story, entitled “THEY RAPED IN SA’S TOUGHEST TOWNSHIP … and they paid the price!”, prominently violates the rights of two separate parties.

The rape victim is pictured with the caption “A 33 – year old man and his 29 – year old lover in shock after their ordeal”. This is contrary to her human rights to privacy and dignity. It is also against generally accepted ethical standards of reporting which determine that she can only be identified with informed consent. This identification can take place both by being pictured or having the victim’s name or identifying details given about her. There are indications that the journalist is familiar with this standard as the article states that the male victim is not named because it would amount to identifying the rape victim.

In this picture, the victim is clearly visible and could easily be identified by a person who knows her of who has seen her before. It is not possible for someone who is traumatised and in shock to consent to having her picture taken and fully understand the repercussions of the action. Key to informed consent, is that consent must be given and that it should be informed through an explanation of the possible side-effects. In an emotional state it is not possible to give truly informed consent. It must therefore be assumed that informed consent could not have been attained.

The first thing you see when paging ‘the people’s paper’ to page 2 is the bloody image of two young men who “allegedly attacked a couple with knives [and] repeatedly raped the 29 year-old woman”. The journalism covers the events in a very superficial manner, which would leave readers with the impression that rape is commonly committed by strangers, when this is in fact to the case. Although we do not excuse these alleged deeds, the image and article on page two violates their human right to dignity. It is also possible that these men were innocent, which is why the justice system exists, to ensure the accused receive a fair trial.

The story could be said to encourage vigilantism by its congratulatory tone of the first few lines of the story “PEOPLE’S JUSTICE – the residents of SA’s toughest crime – busting township have done it again!” The phenomenon of vigilantism is also not explored, which would have linked the poverty and desperation with the event. High crime rates and an under-capacitated police force are not mentioned as causative facts. The story also supports racial stereotypes in how it refers to black townships with black victims. The victims are passive victims, unable to fight for themselves, and the community violent.

Tabloid journalism, such as this, tends to over-simplify social problems, making all events seem like once-off occurrences without relation to each other. We encourage the Daily Sun to deepen their analysis of events and fulfil their obligation to educate and inform the public.

– Comment by Luzuko Pongoma and Sandra Roberts

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