Multiple Sources

CASE STUDY: Limited viewpoints in media coverage of baby dumping

Introduction

In getting the facts, journalists must decide what types of sources are most credible and relevant for a given story.  By using many sources, journalists can give more than one viewpoint and explore conflicting perspectives without takinga personal stance.  When this multitude of voices is absent from a story, the result is often a skewed--and at times inaccurate--presentation of a complex reality.

Babies buried alive in dunes, stabbed to death by mothers, thrown in bins or fetuses flushed down drains. Some make survive and are rescued. Others are not as lucky. Baby dumping is an increasing problem in Namibia, with media reports on it at least twice a month. In a report by the Namibia Economist, it is estimated that the bodies of 13 newborn babies are found at the Gammams Water Care Works in Windhoek each month, having been flushed down the toilet by a parent.

But it is the way in which these incidents are reported that also causes concern.

Most of the news reports are told from the perspective of the reporter, supported by the opinion of a police officer and a community member. This usually states what happened, where it happened and the manner or state in which the baby or fetus was found. A news program called Open File on the State broadcaster, NBC, once broadcasted footage of a decaying fetus dumped in a bin and another one discovered half-devoured by stray dogs in a field.

A story that appeared in the Namibian newspaper told of a 23-year-old woman who dumped her baby on the second floor of a building wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag. When the baby was found, his umbilical cord had apparently not been tied off and he was still bleeding. Police said the baby was in stable condition, and the mother was admitted to the hospital after her arrest for a standard after-birth examination. The police could not say when she would appear in court. She is being charged for abandoning her child, which is child neglect as stipulated in the Children’s Act. A social worker will have to decide on the future of the child. The mother allegedly admitted to dumping her baby out of fear for her father.

The story above is a typical example of how baby dumping is reported in Namibia. Most of these stories are single- sourced, lessening credibility. But because of the coverage it gets and the stir it causes, news consumers seem to overlook what is missing. The above story only includes the police report, what the social worker will have to do and of course, the reporter who wrote it. The mother, who should be the main source in the story, is not heard even though she is the one who committed the act.

The media is powerful. The reactions of the news consumers are often influenced by the way in which the story was told. When the public has to comment on a subject such as baby dumping, it is often done with a strong sense of emotion triggered by one person’s perspective only. The mothers who dump babies are referred to as ‘perpetrators’ or ‘murderers.’ These are some of the comments made by readers of the Namibian newspaper on baby dumping via sms:

“Please Namibia courts, sentence those throwing babies away. It is Murder”

“Fellow women, let's stand up in solidarity against the barbaric act of baby dumping”


Warning: The following image might be disturbing to sensitive viewers.

 

 

 

 

In a story that was published in Sister Namibia, a non-governmental women’s organization, statistics reveal that mild forms of depression and mood swings, also known as the ‘baby blues,’ affect about 80% of women who give birth. Approximately one in ten women develop more significant depressive symptoms.

The media generally make no reference to the mother's state of mind or the situation she was in before she committed the crime, and what led her to dump the baby is often not addressed. Could it be that she was suffering from post partum depression? The lack of answers to these questions shows a low standard for objectivity among these news media.

While the media is supposed to ensure stories includes multiple sources, the earlier story offers no comment from her father, no information on the kind of relationship they had or any explanation why the woman was so scared of him that it would lead her to want to dump her baby.  This type of media coverage does not give adequate facts for readers to use in drawing their own conclusions about what happened.

"When a man commits a crime, we women run to the street to protest, but if it is a woman who dumped or killed a baby, nothing is done.” On baby dumping, Veronica De Klerk, Executive Director of Women’s action for development.