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I have a dream to tell

I have a dream to tell

Last night I dreamt that I had become the President of the United States of Africa.  I beat my opponents by 90 percent.  Our Slogan was: Liberate ‘Africans’, and Our Message: ‘Enough is Enough, We Need Press Freedom’.  I did not need the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone presided over by the Chief Justice Hawa Umu Tejan Jalloh to make me President.  In fact, my first act as President in the Black House was to sign a law that repealed Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act and to enforce the Freedom of Information Act, which was placed under the carpet by our Parliamentarians.  I went further to request from the Law Reform Commission to independently review and capacitate the Sierra Leone Media regulatory body, the Independent Media Commission (IMC). Yes!  We are not proud of the current status of the IMC.

As a President for Africa, I partnered with other Heads of States to sign a law that banned the export of raw materials from Africa without value added to them.  After the meeting, I saw lots of intellectuals who came crying, stating that they had lost their so-called Intellectual Property Rights.

Indeed, the intellectuals cannot be the only people suffering in silence.  Out of sympathy with them, I urgently called a press conference sharing the challenges with my own very profession, JOURNALISM.  I started addressing the Yellow Journalists, Coasting Journalists, Gutter Journalists and the professionals who were in small number. I stated thus:

“Members of the Fourth Estate you are welcome to this press conference.  The media (print, electronic or otherwise) form an integral part of society.  These various parts include the economy, political groups, family and other institutions, all of which contribute to ensure harmony, equilibrium and the survival of the society as a whole.  In Sierra Leone the government is made up of the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary.  The media is regarded as the Fourth Estate in the current democratic dispensation.  It serves as a watchdog over the excesses of the government and those in positions of trust.  The media acts as an advocate and an intermediary between the government and the governed.  Many Sierra Leoneans, if not all, are of the opinion that they have adequately replaced the role of the opposition party in the country.  Most publications are geared towards highlighting problems of good governance in the country and media institutions are expected to be playing their roles in promoting good governance.

“A reminiscence of both the 2007 and the just concluded 2012 multitier elections in Sierra Leone showed much proof of the media’s usefulness in any democratic dispensation.  As most of these media institutions engaged their reporters and newsmen to ensure total coverage of events.

“Evidently the primary role of the media, which is to sensitize members of the society on their civil and political rights and responsibilities which can be inextricably linked with the idea of good governance, which seek to promote the rights and liberties and freedoms of all members of the society.

“In as much as the media can serve as a channel for national cohesion, and as a weapon for social and political change, it has not been able to flee the visage of criticism.  The media has been accused of compromising their ethical principles by showing awful disregard for the notion of truth and neutrality.  Others are of the view that some media institutions are not useful in any way to society, because every bit of their content and programs are centered on entertainment and advertorials which should not outshine the other facet which is to educate.

The above opinion begs the question, IS THE MEDIA SERVING IT’S APPROPRIATE REASON OF ESTABLISHMENT?  Although frantic efforts have been made by institutions such as the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI), Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Independent Media Commission (IMC), etc., in order to restore sanity in the media landscape of Sierra Leone this also ushered the enactment of the IMC Act of 2000 as amended in 2007 and the IMC Media Code of Practice.

“Sierra Leone’s post-independence history has not been very impressive; all indicators (political, social and economic) of national development have reflected a failure to produce expected result.  The unflinching role of the media in upholding the philosophy and practice of democratic good governance as enshrined in sections 11 Act #6 of the 1991 Constitution is beclouded by uncountable variables or challenges that have militated against the clamour for diversity, pluralism, independence and professionalism in the Sierra Leone developing media.

“The media in Sierra Leone is a free-for-all enterprise as stated in section 25(1) Act #6 of 1991. Editors, journalists and other newsmen are using the constitutional provision and stopping at nothing but to satisfy their selfishness and rapacity in the news business in order for them to satisfy the wills of their political godfathers.

“Again the other challenge is that the ethical standards of Sierra Leone’s media or journalism found in the Independent Media Commission’s Media Code of Ethics/Practice are being repudiated by quacks and so-called professional journalists without any compunction.

“The media in Sierra Leone has been either positively or negatively contributing to the present state of the country. However, remote if any, are recorded on this the root cause of the then bloody eleven years civil unrest as stated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was bad governance which pervaded every fabric of society.

“The media has a primordial power which sets the agenda for public discussions. In Sierra Leone, the proliferation of media houses like radio stations, newspapers, advertising firms, etc. despite this the credibility and effectiveness of media houses is farfetched. However, the level of awareness among citizens on governance issues is yet to be ascertained. How best the media has played its role in ensuring the prevalence of good governance is also yet to be determined generally. Journalists are expected to report events neutrally and correctly as possible and not to take sides.

“It is an undisputable fact that the media can make and unmake society due to the functional perspective of the media. One of the objectives of the media as put forward by Mahatma Ghandi is: ‘to understand the popular feelings and give expression to it; to arouse among the people certain desired component; to fearlessly expose popular effect’.

“The above postulation by Ghandi clearly explains the importance of the media in upholding the concept of freedom, social reforms and change.  According to Magistrate Binneh Kamara, during one of his lectures at Fourah Bay College: “Freedom and diversity, neutral and conceptual phenomenon are therefore crucial to the functionality of any democratic system.” This also takes us to the challenge of intimidation of media practitioners for publication that are critical of the government policies.

“Nonetheless, in spite of the usefulness of the media in promoting national democratic initiatives, they are not benefiting from any form of subventions from the central government; which also takes us to the political economy of the media which talks about the economic variables that influences the functionality of the media.  Essentially, the availability of adequate financial resources to meet the production cost is as important as the source from which the financial resources are generated.

“Another challenge or variable that determines the operationalization of the media is unprofessionalism.  Media institutions in Sierra Leone are mostly owned by private individuals who may not have darkened the doors of a media school for formal training on communication and media studies.  As owners, they normally decide or manipulate the content of what could be published or broadcasted to the public for consumption.  How can this be reconciled with the ethics of professional journalism in Sierra Leone?  However, among the many reasons, the Sierra Leone media industry has gradually improved amidst its challenges.  Therefore, in order for the media to function or operate well the following solutions must be given due consideration:

  • If the financial resources are generated from advertising of corporate entities, influential persons, political and civil society groups, the media may end up compromising its independence, integrity and credibility. Therefore the government must reduce taxes on the importation of printing and broadcasting materials and the provision of subventions to media houses that engage in activities that are geared towards promoting ideals of good governance.
  • It is no exaggeration that the media plays a crucial role in every stratum of the society and such role should not be overemphasized.  As a result, the institutionalization of a robust and an effective legislative and regulatory framework or mechanism can serve as a check on the excesses of the media and its practitioners.”

I said thank you, journalists and I woke up. I noticed I had been dreaming.

Pen of The Voiceless With Elkass I.L.Sannoh

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