EMELDA MWITWA, Johannesburg
HEAD of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) public relations Leefa Martin says the media has a critical role to play in holding member states accountable to honouring regional treaties and protocols.
Addressing journalists attending a training programme in preparation for the 2015 SADC Heads of State and Government Summit, Ms Martin said practitioners need to marshal enough knowledge on regional matters to play their watchdog role effectively. The training programme is sponsored by the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism and the German oragnisation, GIZ.
She observed that there is inadequate coverage of SADC matters in between conferences of the heads of state and government, because journalists cannot do follow-up stories due to lack of knowledge on issues.
Ms Martin said journalists need to demonstrate responsibility by providing checks and balances on developmental issues in the region.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t have to bleed to make news; developmental news doesnâ€™t have to bleed. The problem, we journalists want to behave like rogues with no code of ethics,â€ Ms Martin said.
She said journalists must deliberately familiarise themselves with SADC protocols and national programmes to make follow-ups with their SADC national committees.
Ms Martin quoting article 16A of the Consolidated Text of Treaty of the SADC, said each member state must have a SADC national committee. The committee must comprise representatives of government, private sector, civil society, non-governmental organisations, workers and employers organisations.
The SADC national committee which needs to meet at least four times a year, is responsible for providing input at national level, in the formulation of SADC policies and programmes of action.
According to article 16A of the aforementioned treaty, the committee must co-ordinate and oversee implementation of SADC programmes of action at national level. The committee is also responsible for initiating projects for input into the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan.
Ms Martin said it is for this reason that journalists must know SADC contact persons in their respective countries to provide the necessary checks and balances.
She observed that in some countries, SADC national committees only comprise government officials and the media is silent on such matters. Ms Martin further prodded journalists to take their respective governments to task when they renege on what they have committed themselves to.
She said sentiments that the SADC secretariat is a toothless body are misplaced.
â€œThe SADC secretariat is like an employee, we canâ€™t take punitive measures on member states,â€ Ms Martin said. She was responding to concerns by journalists that SADC needs to have power to punish erring member states that abrogate treaties and protocols they have acceded to.
EMELDA MWITWA, Johannesburg