Printed Matter and the Weapon of Ignorance
“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be but bad (A. Camus). With the recently concluded election in our country, the role of the media, the fourth estate, the press or whatever you choose to call it, has never been more important than now. Just when we think that we have had one of the most universal of thumbs up from the watching world; for conducting a Sierra Leone–led political process then some mischievous people have embarked on attempting to undo all the efforts of peace-loving and well meaning Sierra Leoneans. As a country, we have enjoyed one of the longest periods of freedom of the press. Sadly, it seems that some people do not know what to do with this freedom. (Photo: Abdulai Mansary, author)
Sierra Leone has caught the world’s attention for organising an election that has been largely described at home and abroad as peaceful, free and fair. The EU concluded in its report that the elections have generally been well conducted, in a peaceful environment with a high level of participation. The statement further stated that the elections were conducive to democratic consolidation in the country which was evident throughout the campaign period, with security still remaining a key challenge as election results become known.
According to Richard Howitt, Chief Observer for EU EOM, among others, he expressed his desire “to congratulate the citizens of Sierra Leone, who on Election Day came out in large numbers to vote in a largely peaceful atmosphere, demonstrating their enthusiasm for this process and their commitment to democracy. My hope is that the level of transparency and integrity of the elections can be maintained, so there is full confidence in and peaceful acceptance of the outcome”. While the majority of Sierra Leoneans are waiting patiently for the official release of the results by the only authorised body National Election Commission (NEC), there have been allegations and counter allegations of fraud, vote rigging, vote sales, and all manner of irregularities.
These kinds of accusations and counter accusations are not uncommon with elections. No one is saying that it is normal or right to have such an atmosphere. But it is obvious that as long humans have differences in choice, opinions, aspirations or otherwise, there are bound to be variances. If you hate difference, you would be bored to death. Sierra Leone moved one step further into the age of technology by using bio-metric registration for the first time since 1961. Even countries with the most sophisticated machinery do have their own glitches.
This piece is not meant to address the veracity of the claims and counter-claims that have been peddled across the country. What seems to catch the eye is the degree of recklessness with which some parts of the media are running with it; and with reckless abandon for good measure. We all know that most media outlets have their party affiliations. Unfortunately, some fail to understand that in spite of the political differences, there is a hole here, to which the media owes its responsibilities. We all witnessed the campaign season as it evolved on the front pages. But at this juncture of our democratic process, the last thing the people of Sierra Leone expect and deserve is for this fourth estate, which is expected to act as the barometer of society and thermometer of public opinion, to contribute to fanning discord or inflame what has been seen by many as a tense situation. The suspense generated by the yet to be released results is understandable, but taking advantage of the situation to sow seeds of discord among a people; that has shown the world how far we have risen from the ashes of a barbaric past is nothing short of distasteful. There are better ways to sell papers than to put a price tag on the lives and security of peaceful Sierra Leoneans.
If the people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the readers and listeners understand the difference, and choose their news sources carefully. Sierra Leoneans have come a long way to strive for peace. We have listened to lyrics from our local musicians with most geared towards the sermons of peace. To all intent and purpose, the media is expected to rise up in these testing times as torchbearers, to illuminate the path to democracy and peace, instead of trying to fan the flames of discord. Information is the most valuable commodity in the world today, and the use of this must be sacred to all.
We have seen how the social media contributed, largely to the democratic process. However, the media revolution can be an extremely sharp double-edged sword. Digital media has presented us enormous opportunities, which in effect has been seen as the enemy of traditional media. It is an open secret that reporters do thrive on misfortune and sometimes take an indecent pleasure in events that dismay humanity. Public opinion is easily generated by the press, and in doing so, the press should not aspire to make the public incapable of judging, to insinuate into the attitude of someone irresponsible and uninformed. There is a sacred creed here: to educate, inform and entertain.
As we await the official release of the election results, we should remember as Sierra Leoneans, that irrespective of our tribal, religious, political or fashion differences, we are all one and the same people. Together we should strive for peace. The hope is that we will get there, but for us to get there, we need the media to come with us.
Congratulations to all the Sierra Leonean artists, the parastatals, NGOs, Observers and members of the media, who in various ways have contributed in sensitizing the public for a democratic process that will put the country on the map. This most recent exercise has put Sierra Leone on the map again, for a good reason. As a country, we are on the verge of being seen, judged and used as the yardstick to measure not only Sierra Leone’s democratic process, but Africa as a whole. The opportunity to serve as a shining example to Africa and beyond should not be missed. It was once called the “Athens of Africa”. Another accolade will not go amiss. Let’s keep it that way and not undo all the good work. As for the media; BEHAVE. A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society (W. Lippmann).
Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.
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