SLAJ President Warns of Journalism Crisis and Press Freedom Threats in West Africa

By Amadu Lamarana Bah, Abuja, Nigeria

Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), has sounded the alarm on the dire state of journalism in West Africa. During the inaugural West Africa Journalism Innovation Conference 2023 (#WAJIC 2023) held in Abuja, Nigeria from 24th to 27th July 2023, Nasralla called for urgent action to safeguard press freedom and address emerging threats faced by journalists in the region.

Nasralla expressed deep concern over the impact of digital and social media on traditional journalism, which has led to the loss of three essential functions of the media: content creation and dissemination, gate-keeping, and setting the agenda for public debate. He pointed out that the rise of citizen journalism has raised credibility and reliability concerns regarding information sharing.

One of the major threats highlighted by Nasralla is the increasing hostility faced by journalists from political supporters and traditional authorities in local communities. He cited instances where journalists, critical of either ruling or opposition parties, were subjected to threats and labeled to discredit their work in the eyes of the public.

The SLAJ President also raised alarm about the growing trend of journalists aligning themselves with political interests instead of prioritizing public interest journalism. This, he said, undermines media solidarity on important national issues and weakens accountability journalism.

Nasralla lamented that journalists’ associations, such as SLAJ, are facing challenges in acting as moral guarantors due to internal divisions along political lines. He explained how the association’s members pressure them to take opposing stances on various issues, making it difficult to maintain a unified position.

Moreover, Nasralla highlighted the threat posed by new regulations and legislation aimed at restricting media and civic space in West African countries. He pointed out examples of cyber security laws in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, which have been used to curb free speech and limit press freedom.

The SLAJ President also drew attention to the economic struggles faced by media outlets in the region. The decline in trust in traditional media, coupled with the spread of disinformation and misinformation, has contributed to the vulnerability of media organizations to political and corporate interests. Nasralla emphasized the need to address the issue of media ownership and ensure independence, professionalism, and credibility within the industry.

Another worrisome trend highlighted by Nasralla is the rise of influencers who are employed by politicians to spread propaganda and discredit critical journalists and civil society activists during elections.

In light of these challenges, Nasralla stressed the importance of embracing innovation in journalism to address the crisis effectively. He called for collaborative efforts between media development bodies, journalists’ unions, relevant institutions, and Governments to safeguard press freedom, ensure the safety of journalists, and promote democracy, rule of law, and human rights in West Africa.

Nasralla urged the revival of regional journalist associations like the West Africa Journalists Association (WAJA) to foster cooperation, share successes, and address common threats faced by media professionals in the region.

In conclusion, Nasralla called for a collective commitment to support the media and uphold the fundamental right to free expression. He emphasized that journalism should serve as a watchdog, holding leaders and institutions accountable, but also stressed the need for media organizations to be transparent and accountable in their own operations.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here