By Foday Moriba Conteh
During a snap cocktail ceremony held on Monday 19th June, 2023 at Hotel Cabenda on Signal Hill Road in Freetown, the Sierra Leone Association for Journalists (SLAJ), the Media Reform Coordinating Group, the Independent Media Commission, the BBC Media Action and the Government of Sierra Leone officially launched the National Fund for Interest Media Sierra Leone (NAFPIM-SL).
The President of the Sierra Leone Association for Journalists (SLAJ),Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said the National Fund for Public Interest Media in Sierra Leone stems from the National Action Plan for Media Viability which was agreed upon by key stakeholders in the wake of the Sierra Leone National Media Viability and Investment Conference held in April 2022.
He added that one of the key recommendations from the conference was that Government and development partners should commit to a national fund for public interest media of he said in fulfillment of that key recommendation they are proud to officially launch the National Fund for Interest Media Sierra Leone (NAFPIM-SL).
The President said that the launching of the Fund will help to promote public interest media in the country, furthering that with the launch of the Fund journalists will now have the opportunity to investigate in-depth stories.
The National Coordinator for the Media Reform Coordinating Group, Dr. Francis Sowa, who also doubles as the Programme Manager for the Fund, said the initiative takes its cue from the perception that the media in Sierra Leone face tough economic challenges which, in turn, limit their ability to produce content that serves the public interest.
He stated that in that regard stakeholders called for a funding mechanism that could combine Government subsidies with contributions from international donors and disburse this funding through a transparent and inclusive process.
He said that the funds will have a Board with members of the Board drawn from several organizations which include Government, Civil Society, the Media etc. adding that the Board overall provide policies, guidelines and direction for the Fund further revealing that in order to support the Board there is also a Secretariat and a technical working group.
Dr Sowa pointed out that the months following the launch will be considered a Pilot Phase during which the Fund will be operationalize adding that criteria for media houses and journalists to benefit from the National Fund for Interest Media Sierra Leone will be made and thereafter, calls for proposals will be conceived and published.
The Country Director for BBC Media Action, Edward Kargbo, described the launch of the National Fund for Interest Media Sierra Leone as very historic event, which he said is a culmination of extensive consultations by many stakeholders.
He said that the BBC Media Action has been involved in media development in the country through working and supporting media partners and they are with the strong conviction that the launching of the National Fund for Interest Media will serve as a platform to channel media initiative development in the country.
Edward Kargbo said that the media plays an important role in democracy and that is why it is important to recognize the media’s role as a partner in development saying it is equally important to promote a Free Press and safeguard its independence.
“It is only when the media is free and independent that they can perform and fulfill its democratic obligations and this can only happen when the media is viable and resilient. We do not imagine that the fund will address all the challenges that militate against a free and vibrant independent media but we hope that the Fund will make a significant difference,” he revealed.
The Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, commended the Sierra Leone Association for Journalists (SLAJ) for the strides the Association has been taking towards the development of the media landscape in the country.
He said that during the repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act they did say it will attract more women and investment in the media, adding that the high enrollment of women at the Mass Communications Department of Fourah Bay College and the launching of the National Fund for Interest Media Sierra Leone is a testament to that.
The Minister reaffirmed Government’s commitment to support the fund with a grant sum of One Hundred Thousand dollars ($100,000) as part of their commitments made to the International Fund for Public Interest Media.
Climaxing the ceremony was the official launch of the International Fund for Public Interest Media Sierra Leone by the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray and the Former President of the Sierra Leone Association for Journalists (SLAJ) Umaru Fofana.