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‘Physician Heal Thyself’

‘Physician Heal Thyself’

There is a call to order within the journalism profession/trade in Sierra Leone.  That call has come from all strata of society.  While doing research and engaging in media outreach, I came across two documents that will arguably help inform a proper direction for this call to order.  The first is a paper presented by Dr. Ibrahim Abdullah of the Department of History and African Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone at the 19th Biennial Conference of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on the 12 April 2013 in Freetown.  The second is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Media Development Indicators (MDIs).  This article uses Dr. Abdullah’s paper for a description of the country’s media and uses the MDIs as the prescription for the current state of the media in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Abdullah’s paper, “Healing the Political Divide in Sierra Leone: The Role of the Media’’, delved into the seeming political divide that was created or better still worsened during the country’s elections of November 17, 2012.  He put one of his core points on the media this way: “In societies such as ours, where the bulk of our compatriots are unlettered—those whom the IFIs have tagged the less than a dollar a day generation—we should not be talking about roles.” He suggested “the responsibility(ies) of the media to the society rather than the role of the media!.” He argued that “framing it this way makes it compulsory for the media to own up to such responsibility(ies).”

This is where the problem of Sierra Leone’s media starts.  I argue that the majority of media institutions in the country have not spent appreciable time reflecting on what their responsibilities are in society and they have not earnestly worked towards fulfilling those responsibilities.  A good number of them have not thought about the changing nature of the media which warrants a continuous rethink of the roles and responsibilities of journalists in this 21st century.

In finding a prescription to the problems facing the media, journalists must know that they have an obligation to society as articulated in Section 11 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No. 6 of 1991.  But in the words of Dr. Abdullah, “to arrogate a role/responsibility to the press is to assume that the press is capable of playing that role/carrying out that responsibility.”  He continued that, “What the nation is asking the press to do—both electronic and print—is to stand above ethnic and regional interest; to become professional; to refrain from accepting brown/white envelopes; and to think Sierra Leone in carrying out their professional duty.”  The renowned historian in my view also made one of the best observations as regards Sierra Leone’s media … “So the political divide that the media is called upon to heal is being marketed by the very media summoned to do the healing.  This is indeed a classic case of ‘physician heal thyself’!” He suggested that “the Herculean task of healing the nation which the media has to undertake can be summed up in just two words: DEMOCRATIZE POLITICS!”

Dr. Abdullah’s thesis is worth examining and re-examining in the light of the country’s current media landscape.  He challenged us as media practitioners to ‘heal ourselves.’  I wholeheartedly agree with the postulations of the History Professor.  The healing process at this stage, I submit, must begin with the UNESCO’s MDIs.  The UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) launched the initiative (the MDIs) to develop a set of indicators for evaluating national media landscapes.  The Windhoek Declaration and subsequent regional declarations on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media adopted in Almaty, Santiago, Sana’a and Sofia served as the theoretical framework for the elaboration of the indicators.

Let me from the onset of my submission on the healing process state that any further involvement/intervention by national or international organisations into the ‘current chaotic’ media landscape in Sierra Leone, will not yield positive dividend without a thorough analysis and appreciation of the underlying problems.  The first approach, I submit, is a thorough awareness of the UNESCO’s MDIs and the subsequent application of the MDIs in the country. This is because Mendel in his book ‘Applying UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators describes the Media Development Indicators: a framework for assessing media development as a unique and powerful tool for assessing the overall environment for media development in a country.

In responding to Dr. Abdullah’s postulation on ‘physician heal thyself’, I suggest and recommend the MDIs as the cure which journalistic physicians can use to heal the diseases of unprofessionalism, poor media management, inadequate media training/education and lack of self-regulation among others.  The MDIs speak to the following five categories:

CATEGORY 1: deals with “a system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of the media: existence of a legal, policy and regulatory framework which protects and promotes freedom of expression and information, based on international best practice standards and developed in participation with civil society.” This category is so important to media development in Sierra Leone. It sets the stage for the overall media operation and regulation.

CATEGORY 2: deals with “plurality and diversity of media, a level economic playing field and transparency of ownership: the state actively promotes the development of the media sector in a manner which prevents undue concentration and ensures plurality and transparency of ownership and content across public, private and community media.’’ The problem of media content and context is linked to the issues of plurality and diversity which are essential to democratic good governance. The vexed question of media ownership and transparency of the ownership are addressed in this category.

CATEGORY 3: deals with the “media as a platform for democratic discourse: the media, within a prevailing climate of self-regulation and respect for the journalistic profession, reflects and represents the diversity of views and interests in society, including those of marginalised groups. There is a high level of information and media literacy.” This category addresses what Dr. Abdullah calls ‘democratize politics.’ The application of this category will address the twin problems of lack of self-regulation and little or no media literacy in the country. The platform, the media institutions, will become the meeting point for democratic discourse. This will eventually lead to creating the culture of national debates.

CATEGORY 4: deals with “professional capacity building and supporting institutions that underpins freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity: media workers have access to professional training and development, both vocational and academic, at all stages of their career, and the media sector as a whole is both monitored and supported by professional associations and civil society organisations.” This is the crux of the matter. The input of journalists in terms of what they would have acquired either by way of vocational or academic training, will determine their output by way of their media products meant for public consumption.

CATEGORY 5 is on whether the infrastructural capacity is sufficient to support independent and pluralistic media, addresses issue on whether the media sector is characterised by high or rising levels of public access, including among marginalised groups, and efficient use of technology to gather and distribute news and information, appropriate to the local context.

The MDIs on paper provide the answers to understanding and contextualisng the changing media landscapes in the world including Sierra Leone.  The critical issue has been raising awareness on the MDIs and applying them in specific countries.  In Sierra Leone, raising awareness on the MDIs has begun with the process of popularising the document in all the regions. The Independent Media Commission (IMC) with support from UNDP and UNESCO is leading the process.

Within our context, the composition, disposition and output of most media institutions in Sierra Leone need complete overhauling. The media in Sierra Leone is not too far from the Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s description of the media in one of his farewell speeches on 12 June 2007.  The former British Prime Minister had opined that: “The fear of missing out means today’s media more than ever before, hunts in a pack… it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits… The final consequence of all this is that it is rare today to find balance in the media.”  In fact to make matters worse, Blair said in a speech in which he quoted long gone British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, as having said: “Power without responsibility has been the prerogative of the harlot (press) through the ages.”  I therefore submit in concluding this piece that raising awareness and applying the MDIs will be the first serious attempt to look at and to address the issues facing and affecting the overall media landscape in Sierra Leone, and will by extension help us media practitioners to heal ourselves. Then we would have adhered to the clarion call of ‘physician heal thyself.’

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There is a call to order within the journalism profession/trade in Sierra Leone.  That call has come from all strata of society.  While doing research and engaging in media outreach, I came across two documents that will arguably help inform a proper direction for this call to order.  The first is a paper presented by Dr. Ibrahim Abdullah of the Department of History and African Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone at the 19th Biennial Conference of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on the 12 April 2013 in Freetown.  The second is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Media Development Indicators (MDIs).  This article uses Dr. Abdullah’s paper for a description of the country’s media and uses the MDIs as the prescription for the current state of the media in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Abdullah’s paper, “Healing the Political Divide in Sierra Leone: The Role of the Media’’, delved into the seeming political divide that was created or better still worsened during the country’s elections of November 17, 2012.  He put one of his core points on the media this way: “In societies such as ours, where the bulk of our compatriots are unlettered—those whom the IFIs have tagged the less than a dollar a day generation—we should not be talking about roles.” He suggested “the responsibility(ies) of the media to the society rather than the role of the media!.” He argued that “framing it this way makes it compulsory for the media to own up to such responsibility(ies).”

This is where the problem of Sierra Leone’s media starts.  I argue that the majority of media institutions in the country have not spent appreciable time reflecting on what their responsibilities are in society and they have not earnestly worked towards fulfilling those responsibilities.  A good number of them have not thought about the changing nature of the media which warrants a continuous rethink of the roles and responsibilities of journalists in this 21st century.

In finding a prescription to the problems facing the media, journalists must know that they have an obligation to society as articulated in Section 11 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No. 6 of 1991.  But in the words of Dr. Abdullah, “to arrogate a role/responsibility to the press is to assume that the press is capable of playing that role/carrying out that responsibility.”  He continued that, “What the nation is asking the press to do—both electronic and print—is to stand above ethnic and regional interest; to become professional; to refrain from accepting brown/white envelopes; and to think Sierra Leone in carrying out their professional duty.”  The renowned historian in my view also made one of the best observations as regards Sierra Leone’s media … “So the political divide that the media is called upon to heal is being marketed by the very media summoned to do the healing.  This is indeed a classic case of ‘physician heal thyself’!” He suggested that “the Herculean task of healing the nation which the media has to undertake can be summed up in just two words: DEMOCRATIZE POLITICS!”

Dr. Abdullah’s thesis is worth examining and re-examining in the light of the country’s current media landscape.  He challenged us as media practitioners to ‘heal ourselves.’  I wholeheartedly agree with the postulations of the History Professor.  The healing process at this stage, I submit, must begin with the UNESCO’s MDIs.  The UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) launched the initiative (the MDIs) to develop a set of indicators for evaluating national media landscapes.  The Windhoek Declaration and subsequent regional declarations on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media adopted in Almaty, Santiago, Sana’a and Sofia served as the theoretical framework for the elaboration of the indicators.

Let me from the onset of my submission on the healing process state that any further involvement/intervention by national or international organisations into the ‘current chaotic’ media landscape in Sierra Leone, will not yield positive dividend without a thorough analysis and appreciation of the underlying problems.  The first approach, I submit, is a thorough awareness of the UNESCO’s MDIs and the subsequent application of the MDIs in the country. This is because Mendel in his book ‘Applying UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators describes the Media Development Indicators: a framework for assessing media development as a unique and powerful tool for assessing the overall environment for media development in a country.

In responding to Dr. Abdullah’s postulation on ‘physician heal thyself’, I suggest and recommend the MDIs as the cure which journalistic physicians can use to heal the diseases of unprofessionalism, poor media management, inadequate media training/education and lack of self-regulation among others.  The MDIs speak to the following five categories:

CATEGORY 1: deals with “a system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of the media: existence of a legal, policy and regulatory framework which protects and promotes freedom of expression and information, based on international best practice standards and developed in participation with civil society.” This category is so important to media development in Sierra Leone. It sets the stage for the overall media operation and regulation.

CATEGORY 2: deals with “plurality and diversity of media, a level economic playing field and transparency of ownership: the state actively promotes the development of the media sector in a manner which prevents undue concentration and ensures plurality and transparency of ownership and content across public, private and community media.’’ The problem of media content and context is linked to the issues of plurality and diversity which are essential to democratic good governance. The vexed question of media ownership and transparency of the ownership are addressed in this category.

CATEGORY 3: deals with the “media as a platform for democratic discourse: the media, within a prevailing climate of self-regulation and respect for the journalistic profession, reflects and represents the diversity of views and interests in society, including those of marginalised groups. There is a high level of information and media literacy.” This category addresses what Dr. Abdullah calls ‘democratize politics.’ The application of this category will address the twin problems of lack of self-regulation and little or no media literacy in the country. The platform, the media institutions, will become the meeting point for democratic discourse. This will eventually lead to creating the culture of national debates.

CATEGORY 4: deals with “professional capacity building and supporting institutions that underpins freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity: media workers have access to professional training and development, both vocational and academic, at all stages of their career, and the media sector as a whole is both monitored and supported by professional associations and civil society organisations.” This is the crux of the matter. The input of journalists in terms of what they would have acquired either by way of vocational or academic training, will determine their output by way of their media products meant for public consumption.

CATEGORY 5 is on whether the infrastructural capacity is sufficient to support independent and pluralistic media, addresses issue on whether the media sector is characterised by high or rising levels of public access, including among marginalised groups, and efficient use of technology to gather and distribute news and information, appropriate to the local context.

The MDIs on paper provide the answers to understanding and contextualisng the changing media landscapes in the world including Sierra Leone.  The critical issue has been raising awareness on the MDIs and applying them in specific countries.  In Sierra Leone, raising awareness on the MDIs has begun with the process of popularising the document in all the regions. The Independent Media Commission (IMC) with support from UNDP and UNESCO is leading the process.

Within our context, the composition, disposition and output of most media institutions in Sierra Leone need complete overhauling. The media in Sierra Leone is not too far from the Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s description of the media in one of his farewell speeches on 12 June 2007.  The former British Prime Minister had opined that: “The fear of missing out means today’s media more than ever before, hunts in a pack… it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits… The final consequence of all this is that it is rare today to find balance in the media.”  In fact to make matters worse, Blair said in a speech in which he quoted long gone British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, as having said: “Power without responsibility has been the prerogative of the harlot (press) through the ages.”  I therefore submit in concluding this piece that raising awareness and applying the MDIs will be the first serious attempt to look at and to address the issues facing and affecting the overall media landscape in Sierra Leone, and will by extension help us media practitioners to heal ourselves. Then we would have adhered to the clarion call of ‘physician heal thyself.’

By: Francis Sowa

Francis Sowa is a journalist/social and media analyst and lecturer, Mass Communication Department, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone (fsowa2007@yahoo.com, +232 76 866 519/ +232 77 866 569

Stay with Sierra Express Media, for your trusted place in news!


 

Francis Sowa is a journalist/social and media analyst and lecturer, Mass Communication Department, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone (fsowa2007@yahoo.com, +232 76 866 519/ +232 77 866 569

Stay with Sierra Express Media, for your trusted place in news!


© 2013, sierraexpressmedia.com. All rights reserved.

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