Child rights organisations have asked the High Court in Pretoria to impose a life-time blanket ban on child victims and offenders ever being identified by the media.
The Centre for Child Law (CCL), Childline SA, the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders and Media Monitoring Africa have taken the country’s major media groups to court, seeking an order to extend the anonymity protection afforded by section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act to child victims and to child victims and offenders after they turn 18.
They presented extensive expert evidence showing that child victims or offenders who were identified in the media suffered extensive psychological harm and that identification was detrimental for their recovery from trauma and reintegration into society.
The organisations included affidavits by two child family killers who have since fully rehabilitated and reintegrated in society but feared that there was nothing to stop the media from exposing their identities.
The application originated when CCL assisted the girl known as Zephany Nurse, who was snatched as a baby, to obtain an interdict the stop the media from identifying her when she turned 18.
The media has undertaken not to identify her pending the outcome of any appeal in the case, but CCL has accused the media of deliberately violating the court order. Steven Butlender, for the applicants, argued that the current approach of the media that child victims who did not testify in criminal proceedings and child victims and offenders could be identified at will once they turned 18 was untenable and unconstitutional. “We’re not seeking the exclusion of the media from reporting on trials and crimes.
“That is absolutely possible, but we do seek an absolute bar on revealing the identity of child victims and offenders,” he said. He said the media would still be able to approach a court to have the ban set aside where it was justified.
Wim Trengove SC, for Media24, Independent Newspapers and Times Media, argued that the proposed life-time blanket ban was too radica,l as it would be triggered the moment a possible crime was committed and would apply to any public disclosure, not only by the media but also by anybody else.
The ban would severely limit the right to freedom of expression and would in some instances have absurd results. Such protection should rather be handled on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Everyone agreed that the young victims of tragic crimes should be protected from being identified, but they differed on how this should be done, he added.
The Justice Minister supported the application by the child rights groups.
By Ilse de Lange