SLAJ President Dilates on Recent Gains & Challenges

During Presidential Cocktail 2022…

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By Amin Kef (Ranger)

During the Presidential Media Cocktail 2022 which was held on Wednesday 7th December, 2022 at the Country Lodge on Hill Station in Freetown, bringing together media practitioners in the country and the President with his officials on the other side, the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, in his statement thanked the President for hosting media owners and practitioners.

He proudly told the President that on Monday he officially launched the State of the Media Report 2018-2021 put together by the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) adding that delivering the first remark as Chairman of the Advisory Board of the MRCG during the launch, Dr. Victor Massaquoi, who is also the Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), said without mincing his words that: ‘the State of the Media in Sierra Leone has drastically improved between 2018 and 2021’maintaining that himself and the MRCG National Coordinator, Dr. Francis Sowa, also expressed a similar claim.

The SLAJ President furthered that but at the end of the launching, one of the country’s exemplary journalists working for Mano Reporters, Kemo Cham, asked the question: “What has actually changed for the media in Sierra Leone? What specific areas can you point to?”

He said in response to Cham, Victor and Sowa mentioned media pluralism- the fact that the country has registered more newspapers, radio stations and other media during the period; a general improvement in content, and an increase in the number of professionals coming into the media- now the media can boast of professionals with PhDs, Masters, first degrees, diplomas and some level of academic qualification; and now some of these professionals are contributing to the body of knowledge on the media ecosystem in the country.

According to him, the most fundamental change that has happened in the media is FREEDOM, the freedom that allows journalists to publish front page headlines such as “Adebayor Is Popular Than President Bio”  in the build-up to the infamous August 10 protests, and “President Bio Displeases God To Please Satan”.

He also highlighted some other achievements in the media: the annual Government subvention, which was increased in 2021, and Freedom of information which the recent MCC scorecard puts at 98%,  made the biggest leaps in the World Press Freedom Index two years in row (in 2020 and 2021) since the repeal of the criminal libel law.

Nasralla also o mentioned the Safety and Security of journalists disclosing how they have developed a national framework and a policy on the safety of journalists in Sierra Leone adding that they have established a National Coordination Committee on the safety and security of journalists in Sierra Leone.

The SLAJ President revealed that a project proposal has been submitted which, when approved, will see Sierra Leone benefit from an initial 100 thousand United States Dollars from the international fund.

He said 50 percent of that will go towards setting up of the structures, which they have already started putting in place, and the other half will be a grant to NFPIM maintaining that they expect Government to soon announce its counterpart allocation to the basket fund as one of its commitments during the conference.

“This will be the first time in the history of the media in Sierra Leone that a locally-owned-and-managed Fund will be giving out small grants to media houses, or groups of journalists, that are committed to doing public interest media- embarking on in-depth and investigative reporting on governance issues of accountability, transparency, and service delivery at the local and national level,” he said.

He said he thinks it should be noted that they are achieving these remarkable results because there is a political will to ensure the media makes progress.

“We are achieving these results also because of our approach: collaboration, engagement and consultation. The first thing I made clear when I came in as President of SLAJ is that Government has a fundamental responsibility to ensure the independence and growth of the media as a bedrock of our democracy and governance; hence we have to collaborate with the government at the level of the Ministry of Information and Communications where we have a fantastic minister and a dedicated and committed team of professionals,” he maintained.

Highlighting challenges, he stated in spite of all those efforts they are making there are very serious concerns and challenges.

He said less than a month the country will be into an Elections year, and the unfortunate incidents of August 10th are clear indications that the media (traditional and social) will be the battlefield for the elections.

According to him,  Government should invest in communication infrastructure adding that  it doesn’t matter what accomplishments one have made if one don’t take it to the public or communicate it to the public in a way they understand, it means nothing adding that there should be some level of independence in the transmission of Government information.

He said the MIC and its sub-agencies (IMC, RAIC, SLBC, etc.) should be well-resourced to be able to perform efficiently and effectively.

That information is very powerful, so Government should treat communication with all seriousness.

He said SLAJ, and a lot of people, have some concerns around the cyber security bill  and what that will mean for free expression and media freedom during the elections.

“We vehemently condemn, in advance, any use of that law by the security and justice sectors to clamp down on critical and dissenting views or political opponents in the guise of an allegation of ‘incitement,” he pointed out.

He also mentioned how the media is struggling saying that is very serious underscoring how the media has been hit by real hard times, and it is excruciatingly difficult.

“Ironically you will not see this on the front pages of our newspapers or hear it on radio and TV. Instead, what you will see is us fighting the course of the MNOs: Hard Times Hit MNOs! That is because we are so selfless that we put the interests of other people above our own interest. We care so much about the many Sierra Leoneans that will lose their jobs if the MNOs scale down their operations and so we didn’t even bother to fact-check or cross-check some of the claims they were making. We just ran with their narrative.

“But sincerely, we also care about the fact that the media is on life support and the MNOs and Mercury International are our only physicians for now,” he maintained.

He said the truth is some form of help must come from the Government and if that is not forthcoming, a good many of the newspapers will close down.

He said we all know that our country is polarized along tribe and region lines rather than on ideologies recommending that they need to fix that.

The SLAJ President said when you have a SLPP Party that draws 90 to 95% of its supporters from the South and the South East regions you expect that when they are in power it’s people from those regions who will enjoy that power.

“And when you have an APC Party that draws 90 to 95% of its supporters from the North and North West then you expect that when they come to power, they come with the North and North West,” he stated adding that it is a recipe for tribalism and regionalism as it promotes exclusion and marginalization.

“You see that there is something fundamentally wrong with our political system,” he said adding that the reforms should start at the political party level.

He maintained that the time is now to start honest, frank, sincere and patriotic conversations for a new political system that will address those deficiencies in the body politic.

He said if anybody tells you we don’t have tribalism because we have inter-marriages for example, he begs to differ.

“We are getting there in high speed; the mindset is building among young politicians; it is being induced; I can see it, I can sense it, I can feel it; and it will be the biggest mistake we will make as a nation,” he sounded the alarm.

He ended up wishing the President and his beautiful wife, the Vice President and members of Government, colleagues and guests present, the opposition parties, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2023 in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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