by Phumlani Malinga
Media advocacy is one tool that SANPUD employs to advocate for the rights of people who use drugs. Getting our activities covered as widely as possible ensures that we make information about people who use drugs available to the wider community to both change their minds about and motivate them to act on behalf of street based people who use drugs.
Our research and participation in international, national and local conversations about people who use drugs is an opportunity for us to keep people who use drugs in the public eye through having these covered widely in the media.
MJ Stowe, Programme Co-ordinator from the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs, represented South Africa on a panel of young people from countries such as Germany, Argentina, Australia and Ireland as part of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Youth RISE at the side event of the 64th United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs held in April. His research was on the impact of the covid-19 mitigating measures on those who sell drugs.
The first interview was with a community radio station, SmileFM, and it focused generally on the impact of the covid-19 mitigating measures on the availability of drugs and the continuation of the harm reduction services. Benitto Vegitone, who has done a few interviews with members of SANPUD, used national policy development as the basis for the interview. MJ highlighted the changes in drug use and the measures that SANPUD and its partners put in place to ensure that harm reduction services were still available to a population that was uprooted and confined outside its comfort area.
On a national scale the main focus of interviews is to inform public policy makers and recast the people who use drugs. This is clear in the questions that Stephen Grootes from NewzRoom Afrika explored in his interview with MJ (on the video shown below).
The main thrust of the interview is about what drugs are and who uses them. Stephen actually says “by drugs you mean cocaine”. MJ used this opportunity to ensure that the public is aware that the focus has to shift from drugs to the people who use them and the impact of lack of support and harm reduction.
The interview with CapeTalk showcases the value that a radio presenter with empathy for people who use drugs and broad understanding of the issues that affect them can have on getting the right message out there. Lester Kiewit has been covering SANPUD activities for a while and does his interviews more as advocacy talks on behalf of people who use drugs.
The challenge of a presenter who is new to discussions about people who use drugs and their rights is evident in the interview with 702. Nickolaus Bauer who did the interview based it on the press release and his own curiosity about drugs. It was long enough to allow public participation which gave people who use drugs the opportunity to take part in the conversation.