An article published in The Star, “Princess takes a bow at care centre” (22/06/2010, p. 3) about Japanese Princess Takamado’s visit to the St. Francis Care, has given Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) reason to be mad.  It reported on a Japanese princess’s visit to a care centre in Boksburg, which cares for adults and children affected by HIV/AIDS. A picture and name of a child interacting with the princess were provided, together with the names of two children at the centre.

Identifying HIV positive or orphaned children by their name, or in a photo, is illegal under the Children’s Act, 2005 Section 133(1) and (2) which state that “no person may disclose the fact that a child is HIV positive without consent” and “consent to disclose the fact that a child is HIV-positive may be given by the child, if the child is 12 years of age or older.” The three children identified in this story are three and four years old.

Additionally, the journalist described one of the identified boys as weeping in the presence of the Princess, assuming that this might have been because the boy “hadn’t received the memo” about the Princess’s visit or that the “reality of being in the same room as royalty was just too overwhelming.” It seems bizarre to speculate on this rather than ask the young boy what had caused him to cry, while keeping his identity anonymous.

MMA strongly encourages journalists to give children a voice whenever they are featured in a news story. In this case, the young boy should have been given the opportunity to explain his reaction to the Princess’s visit and enlighten the journalist with his own thoughts and feelings on the experience.

Lastly, it is important to highlight that, while it’s commendable that Princess Takamado took the time to visit the HIV/AIDS care centre during her visit to South Africa for the World Cup, it is the media’s responsibility to ask critical questions about the purpose and long term contribution such visits from prominent persons have on those being visited, particularly in light of the debate that has emerged around the World Cup and its long-term effect on South Africa.