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Sierra Leone’s media diplomat lectures on Media, Governance & Development

Sierra Leone’s media diplomat lectures on Media, Governance & Development

Sierra Leone’s Information Attaché to the People’s Republic of China, John Baimba Sesay has told a gathering of academic intellectuals pursing different courses of study in the People’s Republic of China, that a vibrant democracy and the promotion of strong democratic credential require the very existence of an independent and pluralistic media, given that the very growth of democracy has a lot of bearing to the dissemination of reliable and credible information.  He spoke on Tuesday 12th February at the close of the 2012/2013 Sierra Leone Students Union in China (SLSUC) Annual Convention. This is an annual event that brings together Sierra Leonean students in China.

Making a presentation on ‘Media, Governance & Development…’ with Sierra Leone as a case study, John Baimba Sesay said, media freedom is very paramount to a well-governed society. Governance, he said  may be hampered by the blot of corruption, which disrupts the free flow of information and has the highest potentials of   undermining  accountability for decisions and in the process discourages greater participation in the decision-making process, which are all relevant I democracy and good governance. “But if such challenges are to be addressed, the media should be seen playing a critical role in exposing societal problems and challenges in governance like tackling corruption.”  Sierra Leone, he said, today enjoys a realistic media friendly environment as could be seen in the context of  media pluralism for there exist  no government monopolies of any kind, coupled with the existence of dozens of newspapers and broadcasting stations which are today reflecting the widest possible range of opinions across the country.

According to Mr. Sesay, given the crucial role that can be played by the media in the sustenance of a nation’s democratic credential,  there is often the need for both state actors and media practitioners to work in tandem with the needs and expectations of the republic public “Both depend on each other. But again, citizens expect accurate and reliable news as they depend on what the media gives them for  consumption”, also highlighting the challenges of  credibility gap in terms of media practice and media professionalism,  saying, it only  can be tackled by ensuring decency and  the widest level of media  transparency. “Given the relevance of the media in national development and the promotion of good governance, there is every need for media practitioners, too, to face every aspect of public scrutiny as a way of ensuring public trust and confidence.” There has always been a radical approach by media practitioners toward issues of governance, like exposing corruption and this, he said is all part of democracy.

Speaking on Sierra Leone’s governance indicators, Sesay said, the country has today ensured, an effective way of community participation in the running of the affairs of the state, saying, “what we today see in Sierra Leone is a situation wherein, decision-making is not only limited at the central level   , our people at the community levels now feel part of the day to day running of the state, through the decentralization process.” The pillars of good governance-, which  he outlined as; ensuring  participatory approach to governance, ensuring  consensus, being  accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive amongst others,  are today gaining momentum in the daily governance of Sierra Leone. “Sierra Leone’s governance indicators are as encouraging and thriving as it is, also in terms of media freedom and media pluralism, with dozens of media outlets in the country. The institutional frameworks that we have worked towards establishing over the years are all in place and making impact as we see in the ACC, NRA, and IMC amongst others. Without a vibrant and independent press a nation’s democracy cannot strive especially in terms of tackling corruption, effectively promoting a proper justice system and in ensuring an effective multiparty democracy”

On media development in Sierra Leone, Sesay said that despite the existence of the Public Order Act there have been campaigns for its repeal, referring to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and the Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI) as taking the lead in the advocacy. He said there is the strong commitment on the part of government to not just always create a free and an enabling environment for media practitioners, but towards the enactment of FOI law.  “From the Regulatory framework we today see the IMC also critically contributing to our democracy as we could see in the number of newspapers and radio stations across the country and people now opting to utilize the IMC in settling dispute with journalists” Mr. Sesay also said, during Sierra Leone’s war periods, the media landscape experienced the most volatile period but that the “return of Sierra Leone to pure multiparty democracy by 1996 started off well for the media but at some point,  strong challenges erupted  as we started the jailing of journalists and even an attack on a media practitioner, which subsequently led to his death.” This, he went on, is today a different scenario in Sierra Leone because in the last couple 0f years,  there has been no journalist jailed by the government and besides, there is  now the greatest form of media pluralism in the country.”

It is because of this media friendly environment that has been created in the country, Sesay said, that today “development journalism is making tremendous impact in the country…this is a powerful tool for local empowerment and community participation in national development. It is similar to investigative journalism but looks at conditions in a country and suggests ways of improving upon such and it encourages a cooperative effort between the governors and the governed.” He also highlighted the impact that social media has had in democracies across the world. He acknowledged, however, that despite these positive trends in the country’s media landscape, there still are a number of challenges to tackle.

Speaking earlier, Chairman for the session, Dr Edward H. Sandy spoke of the improvement in the media landscape in Serra Leone but he too, however cautioned that there are challenges that should be tackled. He referred to the Press Attaché as someone that has effectively contributed in projecting Sierra Leone’s image in Asia as could be seen in his daily writings. A question and answer session was what climaxed the event.

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