The media in SADC is duty-bound to offer fact-based and sustained coverage on sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS to enable citizens in the region to have the right to know about their sexuality and SRHR issues.
The chairperson of human and social development and special programmes standing committee at the SADC-PF A.M. Shaik-Emam expressed these sentiments last Thursday during the SADC-PF joint sessions here. “National parliaments and the media are key actors in ensuring the active participation of (SADC) citizens. In the case of SRHR, HIV and AIDS, which our committee is preoccupied with, citizens have the right to know so that they make informed decisions,” said Shaik-Emam, a South African parliamentarian.
“To become a conduit through which parliaments and parliamentarians communicate with the people it is essential that the media enjoy freedom of the press. Our national parliaments can and should create a conducive working environment for the media, even through legislation which protects and facilitates the work of the media,” reiterated Shaik-Emam.
He says such enabling legislation should promote the freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and more importantly, the right to information.
On a philosophical note, he was of the view that a poor working relationship between the media and parliamentarians “can create a distance between us, as elected representatives and our constituencies. There is, therefore, a need for trust and mutual respect between the media and parliaments.”
Shaik-Emam was also forthright saying, “the media can assist the electorate to continue voting for a particular MP or not. Friction or a bad (working) relationship can short-change the people, in that information about what parliaments are doing to achieve universal access to SRHR can be withheld.”
The four-year SRHR programme – with funding from Sweden – is helping to build capacity among female parliamentarians in particular and national parliaments in general to advocate for sexual reproductive health rights, HIV and AIDS governance issues.
Additionally, the Swedish-funded HIV/AIDS programme is taking the lead in the implementation of a project that SADC members states set up under a SADC HIV Fund to respond to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
“Sadly, although money has been allocated very few of the countries that are supposed to benefit from this project have come up with activities that are within the scope of the project. This has negatively affected implementation,” stated Shaik-Emam.
“While national parliaments and national AIDS commissions (NACs) are dilly-dallying, time is running out and our [SADC] citizens are not benefiting. This is unacceptable. I call upon countries that are yet to come on board to do so immediately,” he said in reference to culprit SADC-PF members who are dragging their feet on the issue.