By Amin Kef (Ranger)
A delegation from the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) comprising the former and current Executive Directors, Professor Kwame Kari Kari, Sulemana Braimah respectively and two other officials in the persons of Abigail Larbi and Adiza Maiga Moro wrapped up a visit paid to the country by engaging the Media on the 31st May, 2023 at the GGEMS Hall on 57 John Street in Freetown.
In attendance were Senior Media personalities from the Print and Electronic Media as well as staff of the Media Reform Coordinating Group, headed by Dr. Francis Sowa as National Coordinator, who, before the commencement of the engagement proper, introduced members of the Media Foundation for West Africa delegation followed by self introduction by members of the Press in attendance.
According to Professor Kari Kari, the Media Foundation for West Africa is a regional independent Non-Governmental Organization with a network of national partner organizations in all 16 countries in West Africa, with the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) in Sierra Leone as one of them. He continued that the Foundation aims at strengthening democratic dialogue , consolidating peace and ensuring development through a professional , independent and pluralistic media.
He disclosed that the purpose of their visit to the country was to engage with the Government and media stakeholders on how to consolidate the recent gains made in freedom of expression and to further improve the media environment.
The founding member of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Professor Kari Kari intimated how they met and held fruitful discussions with the Vice President, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, the Inspector General of Police, the Chief Justice and the Independent Media Commission (IMC).
He underscored that democracy is under siege in many countries maintaining that for progressive reforms to be ushered that have broaden the freedom of expression space in the country is no mean achievement and for such impressive accomplishments made so far they want to profoundly express gratitude to all those who immensely contributed to make that happen and as well to encourage all the relevant stakeholders to continue on that path.
Professor Kari Kari reminiscence past times spent in Sierra Leone recalling days of political authoritarianism when majority of media practitioners in the country were frightened to express themselves freely because of draconian measures taken by the then political regime to muzzle Freedom of Expression. He maintained that though the majority were afraid in those days, however, there were few courageous journalists who were brave enough to challenge the status quo and stood up for justice.
He said they are well aware of the challenges journalists are going through in the region disclosing that at one point in time the MFWA and SLAJ decided that something must be done to overcome the challenges associated with high costs of printing and news prints.
“Through an entity in Canada a Printing Press was procured and there was an understanding of forming a cooperative that will ensure availability of news prints at reasonable costs,” he revealed.
The Professor intimated his audience that as part of their activities include defending journalists against political intimidation and marginalization they thought it was indeed timely to express gratitude to the People and Government of Sierra Leone for the progress made so far to deepen Freedom of Expression and democracy especially with regards the Repeal of the 1965 Criminal Libel Law.
He underscored that the freedom that the recent reforms have granted must be judiciously used by journalists to enhance Freedom of Expression as well as professionalism. Professor Kari Kari stressed that Media Freedom today in Sierra Leone was won through the struggles of veteran journalists, some alive,others dead who gallantly fought for it and went on to admonish that it must therefore not be taken for granted but rather be jealously guarded adding that historically Sierra Leone has been a beacon of Press Freedom referencing how the first newspaper and radio stations in West Africa originated from Sierra Leone.
According to him, the Media is muzzled because of the failure on the part of journalists to act effectively and professionally within the ambit of the law. He lamented that the media has lost public sympathy because of the unnecessary arrogance put up by some journalists, the proliferation of fake news, the peddling of insults, the lack of analytic and heart-warming stories and media houses being owned and controlled by politicians thereby undermining independence and radicalism.
During the engagement, he proposed that it will be economically viable for media houses to think of forming mergers underscoring that such will work only where agreements are arrived at to harmonize Editorial policies and specifically follow agreed approaches of news dissemination, sharing of adverts etc. He made that recommendation in light of the many independent radio stations and newspapers in the country saying such is not economically sustainable or feasible.
Issues such as some Publishers/ Media Owners deliberately refusing to pay reporters according to the minimum wage leading to situations where the aggrieved reporters will decide to open their own media houses thereby eroding professionalism , how prepared are media houses to extensively cover the upcoming General Elections, the safety of journalists etc were lengthily discussed with recommendations proffered and formed the highpoint of the engagement between the Media Foundation for West Africa and the Press.