By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The Guild of Newspaper Editors- Sierra Leone, one of the entities that are affiliated to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) , on the 10th August, 2023, responded to an invitation for a familiarization meeting extended to them by the newly appointed Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernoh Abdulai Bah. The scheduled meeting took place in the Minister’s office at Youyi Building, Brookfields in Freetown where the Deputy Minister of the Ministry, Yusuf Keketoma Sandi, was also present.
In his welcome address , the Deputy Minister of Information and Civic Education, Yusuf Keketoma Sandi pointed out that the rationale behind inviting members of the Guild of Newspaper Editors to a meeting was geared towards not only familiarizing themselves with the members of the Guild of Editors but to also learn about their plans, challenges and aspirations, going forward.
In his brief address, Chairman of the Guild of Editors, Donald Theo Harding extended, on behalf of the entire membership of the Guild, warmest congratulations to the newly appointed Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernoh Abdulai Bah, on his recent appointment.
He commended him on assuming such an important position saying they believe that effective communication and a free Press are the cornerstones of any democratic society.
Theo Harding said as members of the journalistic community, they understand the immense responsibility that lies on his shoulders in ensuring that information flows freely, transparently and accurately to the public.
He gave a brief synopsis of how the Guild of Newspaper Editors Sierra Leone (GoE-SL) was formed stressing it was done to offer an opportunity for a peer review mechanism for mainly newspaper editors so as to principally foster a coalition that would be forthright, honest and patriotic. He also stated that the Guild is there to seek the interest of its members and promote a professional and vibrant print media that would contribute its quota to the continuous process of peace consolidation.
The Chairman maintained that the Guild is now a strong pillar for democracy and governance in Serra Leone and has played a cardinal and crucial role in consolidating the existing peace in the country.
He expressed delight over the initiative of inviting them to a meeting further maintaining that it will offer a perfect opportunity to foster a cordial relationship between the Ministry and the Guild that will be built on mutual understanding and trust, optimistically stating that a very good collaboration will greatly contribute to improve the information and communications landscape in the country for the benefit of the vast majority as well as enhancing the media on various fronts.
The Chairman of the Guild maintained that it is important for the Ministry and the Guild to engage, especially on a number of issues some related to the rising cost of news print, otherwise known as printing materials, the domination of the news print market by Nigerian nationals and undue delay in the payment for adverts that were published or aired on behalf of Government institutions.
“We, therefore, request the Minister’s support in exploring avenues to reduce these costs through Government incentives, subsidies, or strategic partnerships, ultimately ensuring a sustainable future for the print media sector,” he appealed.
Chairman Harding also requested the Minister to intervene in helping the Guild acquire an office space revealing that though recently the Guild was supported by the European Union Delegation to Sierra Leone with office furniture and other materials, they have not been able to make use of the donated materials simply because of the lack of an office space.
He pointed out that the Guild is a non-profit organization that relies, at the moment, on goodwill gestures, for it to effectively carry out its responsibilities. He expressed hope that with the new relationship being fostered between the Guild and the Ministry, some challenges currently grappled with will be surmounted.
“An adequate office space for the Guild is crucial to foster collaboration, innovation and dialogue among the newspaper editors and will enable us to address industry-wide issues, share best practices and promote the highest journalistic standards,” he said.
He argued that the Freedom of the Press remains a fundamental pillar of any democratic society pointing out that they trust that the Ministry, as a guardian of information dissemination, will be relentless in upholding and protecting press freedom adding how through that freedom diverse voices can be heard and critical issues can be addressed.
Theo Harding highly commended the erstwhile Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, for his immense contributions, in diverse ways, to enhance Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression citing the repeal of Part V of the 1965 Public Order Act as a testimony to his tremendous contributions in improving the media landscape.
The Chairman once more congratulated the Minister and his Deputy expressing appreciation for their willingness to meet with the Guild and listen to their concerns. He ended saying by addressing the challenges faced by the print media, through collaboration, support, and proactive measures, they can build a vibrant and resilient media industry that serves as the watchdog of society
Two female executive members of the Guild, of which one was the Proprietor/Editor of Focus 247 Newspaper, Madam Edwina Sia Janga, disclosed how out of 40 newspapers publishers in Sierra Leone, only three female are Editors were as another female Editor, Mabinty Kamara, who is the Editor of Politico Newspaper, said the former Information Minister, Mohamed Rado Swarray, had an excellent relationship with journalists.
Mabinty expressed optimism that with the media backgrounds of the Minister, Chernoh Bah and his Deputy, Keketoma Sandi Esq and out of the wealth of experience they have acquired over the years, there is hope that they will relate well with the Media.
She highlighted some of the challenges journalists encounter in accessing timely information from Ministries, Departments and Agencies, stressing the undue reluctance by certain public officials to respond to enquiries made by the press especially on sensitive issues maintaining that such could be frustrating. She appealed to both the Minister and his Deputy to see how they could sanitize that situation.
Other members of the Guild, including the Managing Editor of The Calabash Newspaper, Amin Kef, commonly known as Ranger and Lawrence Williams, Editor of Fritong Post Newspaper, buttressed the views that have been expressed bordering on concerns and challenges that militate against the Guild.
In his response, the Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernor Abdulai Bah, stated that he is expecting that at the end of the meeting the Ministry will have a clear vision of how the Guild will fit into the country’s media ecosystem in order to ensure a holistic transformation of the sector.
“I am keen about how to make this landscape great because we want a long-term relationship with you guys and what we should do to maintain a win-win situation that will be of benefit to all of us and the general citizenry as a whole should be the main focus,” he said, adding that the Ministry intends to use the print media as a very important platform for Civic Education further stating that he is very keen about how they will use opportunities available to change the media landscape in positive ways.
In his short statement, the Deputy Minister of Information and Civic Education, Yusuf Keketoma Sandi Esq. stated how the Ministry will leave no stone unturned to ensure they provide the space for the media to hold Government to account, adding that one of the main objectives of the Ministry would be how to protect Journalists against victimization by robustly condemning anybody that will wrongfully attack journalists.
He also promised how they will review Government’s payment for advertisements and asked the Guild to put something on paper that would help them evaluate the aforementioned challenges already outlined so that the Ministry would start taking the appropriate actions.