SLAJ President Underscores the Role of the Media in Ensuring Free, Fair &Violence Free Elections


By Amin Kef (Ranger)

During the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) Annual General Meeting 2023 which was held at the Fabulous Resort, York Village in the  Western Rural District on Friday 17th March 2023 one of the personalities that delivered a statement was the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla.

In his Opening Courtesies he extended warm felicitations from the National and Regional Executives and Members of SLAJ furthering how he was extremely honoured to be invited to be part of a panel discussion on ‘Ensuring Free, Fair and Non-Violent Parliamentary and Presidential Elections on 24th June 2023’.

He established how the SLBA has been a long-standing trusted friend of SLAJ, dating back to the 1970s, 80s, 90s…to now revealing how at their  last AGM he did mention in his statement that because of this relationship the two professions are becoming so inextricably tied that there are now members on both sides.

He added that in the not-too-distant future they will have a member of SLAJ elected President of the Bar, and a member of the Bar becoming President of SLAJ.

The President of SLAJ maintained that he thinks it needs to underscored that free, fair and non-violent elections is critical to the development of any democratic society adding that modern democracies have succeeded or failed depending on how free, fair, peaceful, and credible their elections have been.

According to Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, Elections are a fundamental aspect of democracy, providing citizens with the power to elect their leaders and hold them accountable.

He expressed the view that, however, recent global events have highlighted that this is not always the case, with many countries experiencing electoral violence and fraud.

“According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), there were 180 elections worldwide by 2020, and only 63% of them were considered free and fair,” he gave a statistical figure arguing that in Africa, the numbers are even worse, with only 37% of elections being free and fair within the same period.

He stated that the recent elections in Kenya and Nigeria were not captured in that statistics but pointed out that this is a significant challenge that needs to be addressed to promote democracy and stability in Africa and other regions worldwide.

According to him, to ensure free, fair, and non-violent elections, starts with information justifying it by saying if the information about the elections is not correct or credible the outcome will also not be credible.

He argued that Citizens need the right information to help them make informed choices about who should lead them underscoring that it is at this stage that the media comes in.

The SLAJ President also stated that to ensure free, fair, and non-violent elections also requires all stakeholders to play their roles professionally and effectively adding that one of the critical stakeholders in that regard is the media, whose role cannot be overemphasized.

In outlining the role of the media , one of which is to provide accurate information, he intimated the audience that it has a crucial role to play in providing accurate and unbiased information to citizens about the elections.

He also regarded  the media as watchdog maintaining how it serves in that capacity during the electioneering period by monitoring the electoral process and reporting irregularities, thereby promoting transparency and accountability.

Another role he dilated on was Voter Education in which he registered how the media also plays a crucial role in educating voters on their rights and responsibilities, thereby promoting an informed electorate.

He told all present that voters need to be educated about the electoral system and processes- how to register to vote, how to verify a name on the voters list, how to collect a voter ID and how to vote on polling day.

“Voters further need to be educated about electoral laws and punishment; and about the candidates and political parties that are contesting the elections and their track-records and manifestos,” he suggested adding that there must be the provision of equal access underscoring how the media should make its platform accessible by/to all candidates, all political parties, and the ordinary people, including minority groups, without discrimination.

The SLAJ President also mentioned the promotion of dialogue. He stated that the media should promote dialogue among politicians and citizens during the elections through the organization of political debates and discussion programs.

Setting the agenda, he recommended as another important role of the media especially by ensuring that the issues that are closest to the heart of the voters are being discussed by the politicians.

In terms of collaboration, the SLAJ President argued that there is also the collaborative role of the media by ensuring working with other stakeholders- the EMBs, Security sector, Civil Society Organisations, etc- to ensure free, fair, and peaceful elections.

He also mentioned the training of journalists reporting on the elections to ensure ethical standards, professionalism and non-partisanship or independence throughout the electoral cycle.

In relation to the challenges, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, stated that according to the latest reports by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Sierra Leone’s media environment is generally free and diverse, with hundreds of radio stations and newspapers, as well as TV stations and online news portals operating in the country.

He, however, pointed at Intimidation and Harassment as challenges. He maintained that there have been instances of media intimidation, harassment, and censorship by the Government, security forces, and political parties and their fanatic supporters.

The SLAJ President referencing the 2018 elections revealed that there were also cases of hate speech, fake news, and incitement to violence by some media outlets, which contributed to the tense atmosphere and electoral disputes.

Another challenge, he mentioned, is the digital space which, he said, is now commonly called social media. He argued that the traditional or legacy media has no more control over content creation as anyone with a smart phone can now easily create their own content and post on the information highway.

He said issues of fake news, disinformation, propaganda and hate speech and inciteful messages are common place in this new and diverse space, thereby confusing the voters on what to believe and not to believe.

In the estimation of the SLAJ President, there is also the challenge of media poverty which, according to him, is making journalists vulnerable to the dictates of politicians.


Dilating on the role of SLAJ, the President stated that as the umbrella body for the media in Sierra Leone, SLAJ is working with several donor partners including the National Democratic Institute (NDI), National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Irish Aid, UK Aid (FCDO), the EU, the UNDP, and the Elections Commission Sierra Leone (ECSL) to implement projects aimed at ensuring free, fair, inclusive, transparent, and non-violent elections.

He noted that to implement those projects, SLAJ is working in partnership with local stakeholders including the Independent Media Commission (IMC), the Independent Radio Network (IRN), Talking Drum Studio, the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), and the Inter Religious Council (IRCSL).

According to him, the projects include training of journalists on elections reporting, regulations governing the print and electronic media, the journalists’ code of conduct, conflict and gender sensitive reporting, and countering disinformation and hate speech and inciteful messages around the elections.

Concluding, the President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, said to ensure that the 2023 elections are free, fair, and non-violent, the media should focus on the following aspects: Providing accurate, balanced, and factual information to voters, candidates, and stakeholders, including on the electoral laws, procedures, and results.

That the media should avoid sensationalism, propaganda, and hate speech that could incite violence, discrimination, or prejudice against any group or individual and should also promote ethical standards and professional conduct among journalists, editors, and media owners, through training, codes of ethics, and self-regulation mechanisms.

He maintained that media practitioners should monitor and report on electoral irregularities, malpractices and violence, with due diligence and impartiality, to help prevent or redress any violations of the law or human rights.

Nasralla also argued that collaborating with the electoral management body, civil society, and other stakeholders will help to promote a peaceful and inclusive electoral environment, through public debates, voter education, and conflict prevention initiatives.






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