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Sierra Leone Media Must Show Responsibility

Sierra Leone Media Must Show Responsibility

After having the opportunity of traveling to several African countries, I have realized that our country’s media is severely backward, producing mostly baseless news full of grammatical errors and bearing literally little semblance to the role of a media in any civilized country.

This has caused concern to come of us who are residing in foreign countries where our nation’s worth is on the public pedestal, constantly being looked into and criticized.

The Tablet

Sierra Leone has traditionally been the bastion of education, and this was the situation as recent as the seventies, when our newspapers, though highly controlled under a one party dictatorship, actually had ‘real’ writers, penning great articles which can be published in any newspaper, in any country in the world. Even the Tablet newspaper, which was produced by a group of young Sierra Leoneans in their early twenties, was published with a meticulous regard for detail, for grammar and for the ethical and equally challenging aspect of libel being considered in every article in any edition. With writers like I.B. Kargbo, Pius Foray, Cleo Hanciles, Hindolo Trye and others, there was no way for bad writing to creep unnoticed into the newspaper. This was the period when Siaka Stevens was lording it over the paper, and had a battery of lawyers to seek for any incriminating article or word which might be cause for a libel case. Indeed after making futile attempts to nab the young writers of the Tablet newspaper in a court of law without success, Stevens had no alternative but to use violence as a resort, thus the Tablet newspaper was bombed with dynamite and the writers hounded out of the country while those who remained were terrorized.

Modern Tech

The days of modern technology has made press work especially in the newspaper world easier. Computers have done away with the letterpress, the machine that formerly printed newspapers, a period when each letter or number had to be meticulously selected to form part of the sentence and this was a work which involved painstaking attention, and for mistakes were a disaster.

Now we have scanners, we have the internet to provide information at the tip of the finger tip, and even to help fill up the pages and the mobile phone which makes it easier for the roving reporter to make appointments while on the road. But with all these modern conveniences at his or her disposal, the Sierra Leone media man is openly carrying our poor work which has added a bad slant to the image of the country as a nation of educated people.

If anything, semi-illiterates have taken over the newspaper world in Sierra Leone and the result has not been encouraging. Recently, one Freetown tabloid was named as the best newspaper in the country. I will not want to name names, but this speaks volumes for the level to which newspapers have fallen in this country. For beyond all reasons such a newspaper will not even be considered as a newspaper in Guinea, not to talk of Ghana, Senegal or Nigeria.

Personality Attacks

Most newspapers published in Sierra Leone are engaged in personality attacks. In such a scenario, you see how the nation’s dirty linen is being put out in the eyes of the world because a newspaper is the first indicator of the literate level of any country. It is also the thermometer that shows the level of a nation’s common sense and accepted values. Anyone on a first visit to Sierra Leone on reading the newspapers might have a tendency to question if this country has a University with a mass Communication Department. Newspaper journalists in Sierra Leone, have the odd tendency of attacking the personality of each other, rather than bringing up issues. Making attacks on the level of education of each other and even questioning the family birth right of each other is a common subject for newspaper writers in the country. What makes this practice nauseating is that in most cases, politicians who are ready to pay the bills are the cause of journalists attacking each other. Politicians use the journalists as attack dogs, and this has caused the general public to rate journalists, in the words of one diplomat as next to common criminals and pick pockets.

Tholla Thompson Bashing

One personality who has become the source of attacks from some unprofessional Sierra Leone newspaper writers is Justice Tolla Thompson, the no nonsense member of the judiciary who has been known for his strict approach and his refusal to take bribes.

In a country where newspaper have a tendency to write libelous newspaper articles daily and later go on their knees to plead for mercy, Tolla Thompson has set the example by taking Paul Kamara, proprietor of the For Di People newspaper to court where he was jailed and later fined for his clearly libelous articles against the personality of Justice Thompson. In the UK, such writings will never have seen the light of day in any self respecting newspaper, including the usual London tabloids. But this is Sierra Leone, where everything goes.

Now, because of bringing to light their anomaly, some newspaper writers, as usual having little concept of grammar and none concerning use of words, ethics and not to talk of libel, have had a field day maligning the able Justice.

Because Justice Tolla Thompson had been one of the few judicial functionaries to take the matter of libel against him in court, he is now seen as the enemy of the unprofessional newspaper writers (not journalists mind you) who have always brought his name in any matter even though he has no hands in it.

The latest manifestation of this type of unprofessional journalism was manifested when during the trial of Madam Afsatu Kabbah, a former government minister on corruption charges; the media was debarred from entering the court premises. Even though the order was given by the presiding judge, it was Tolla Thompson, engaged in his own affairs as judge in the Industrial Court, who was named as the one who stopped journalists!

One newspaper writer even went to the extent of using abusive adjectives on Justice Tolla Thompson, causing many people to question the qualification, if any of the editor of that newspaper, a man known to seek the help of others to correct his writings.

One wonders what the usefulness of the Independent media Commission is. But again, with most of the commissioners not able to write any article worth publishing in any respectful journal, one wonders about the purpose of the IMC, apart from serving as an office space. One would have expected the IMC to serve as a training ground for journalists and also as a corrective system in ensuring that workshops are conducted regularly to ensure that the output of newspapers are properly corrected and maintained.

Instead the IMC is a mere toothless bull dog, an anomaly in a sea of anomalies.

Blackmailing Factor

Another negative aspect of newspaper in Sierra Leone is the practice of blackmailing as a form of raising money. The rush for material things, added to the country’s unmatched spate of corruption has finally entered into the newsrooms of several newspapers in Sierra Leone. The result is that because of the journalists want to drive four wheel drive vehicles and other SUVs, they have no compunction about going out to blackmail prominent people, with politicians and Lebanese businessmen being the most common targets. The word is ‘scoop’, meaning they have information which can be traded for money. The bigger the information scooped, the higher money demanded. Journalists have been known to demand up to a hundred million Leones to trade off information.

The matter is serious and for the present president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists Mr. Fofanah, it looks as if he cannot make any headway in curtailing the practice. If Sierra Leone is to make any headway in re-branding the country’s image, it is important that it starts with the media because this is the Fourth Estate, the group that is supposed to be the guardians of the principles guiding the country. If the Fourth Estate is corrupt, then the nation will not be able to move out of the quagmire.

This explains why the present fight against corruption has been an uphill; task, as those who have been indicted rush off to a particular press, pay huge sums of money and they overnight become victims. How can we fight corruption in such a manner?

Media Courts

Some Sierra Leone newspapers, sadly enough, have also become courts, contrary to the ethics of the profession. Instead of allowing the courts to carry out their jurisdictions, some newspapers, on receiving cash from their ‘clients’ instantly start maligning the proceedings of the courts, attacking the personality of the judges, the prosecution lawyers and even the Head of State,(who was once shown with satanic horns attached on his head like the devil incarnate) all in an attempt to force the outcome in favour of the one paying the tune. 

This sort of pseudo journalists now have a field day in the country’s media and in a country where the literacy level is at an all time low, bad writings has resulted in a gullible public accepting such naïve information as the gospel truth, a sad situation for Sierra Leone, a country formerly known as the Athens of West Africa.

Some personalities in the Sierra Leone Judiciary are certainly engaged in corrupt practices, but this does not mean they are all engaged in this nefarious practice. Indeed the Sierra Leone Judiciary has been lauded internationally by various bodies for their openness and transparency. However, this is an issue which is not noted by the Sierra Leone newspaper writers who see the judiciary as a punching bag for anything which does not turn out positively for them.

Ghost writers

Most of those masquerading as editors and managing editors in the country cannot even write a grammatically correct sentence if left on their own. To cover up their deficiencies, such editors ask others to write articles for them and then they put their by-lines (their own names) on the articles as if they are the ones who wrote them. This explains why some editors write articles but when called to make an appearance in symposiums or other such places, they are never seen. There is a story of one of such bogus newspaper editors who went to the United States to make an address at one University but prior to giving his address, he want into the toilet and claimed he had a cramped stomach. He refused to come out till the function was over. It was a massive disgrace for the journalists in Sierra Leone, not to talk of Sierra Leoneans who witnessed the scene.

The specter of phantom journalists having a free hand is clearly having negative impact on the outcome of everything good in the country and this will not augur well for a nation emerging from a civil war. 

The country’s mass communication institute is not helping matters as those graduating from there are below standard and cannot be trusted with writing anything that showing they are graduates from a university. A system of buying grades and using sex as a means of passing exams has tarnished the image of the University of Sierra Leone’s Mass Communication Department’s output, resulting in mediocre graduates.

Needed Investment

What Sierra Leone needs at this time is serious investment in the newspaper setting so as to attract educated people to engage in the work, instead of leaving it to mediocre and pseudo journalists, most of whom are either semi illiterates or are trained in other disciplines.

Well established business men and women should come in and invest in newspapers, instead of leaving it to hustlers who will not even afford to pay up if they are found guilty of libel, which is already a common practice.

The presence of well established entrepreneurs putting up newspapers will go a long way in making sure responsibility and professionalism plays a prominent role in the newspaper sector of the country.

Investors should also be encouraged to set up newspapers in the country, as it is a very lucrative business. Banks and other commercial houses should also consider making an input in this direction by showing the willingness to help right thinking individuals set up newspapers.

Newspapers are very important in any society, as they play a prominent role in the education of the masses. Students also gain from reading newspapers as the media has an important role in extending the level of education for adults as well as children.

A country where the newspapers are managed, run and edited by questionable characters with ill defined motives is a cankerworm to any country, especially Sierra Leone where we continue to lag daily instead of moving forward in the same strides with our sister nations like Ghana, The Gambia and Nigeria.

The Sierra Leone print media is in a big disgrace to the image of the country.

By Tamba Ken Musa

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    21st May 2010
  • You are absolutely right Sir.Sometimes I wonder were this nation is heading .Journalism of this kind I rather remain a free thinker.Yet the good ones, allowing the bad ones to survive . What is going on with the children of this beautiful land. Nowadays you read more trash about Sierra Leone than any other country in west Africa.Even in our social gathering , many people are busy crying down the country . Shame on us all.

    18th May 2010
  • Excellent stuff!
    I think the IMC should organize a workshop in which all newspaper editors could meet to discuss the issues raised by Tamba in his article with the aim of formulating remedies to clean up the House, at least for the sake of the nation’s integrity.
    However, I beg to differ with Tamba on one issue – education, or rather the lack of it – as one of the causes.
    I think Sierra Leone has got some of the finest media practitioners in the sub-region in the likes of David-Tam Bayoh, Paul Kamara, Slyvia Blyden,Chernor Ojuku-Sesay, Ahmed M. Kamara, to name but a few.
    What I think has gone wrong here is just a breach of basic journalistic principles in which some newspaper houses (for reasons raised in Tamba’s article) have been reduced to mere PR outlets for opposing political factions and corrupt individuals who are ready to dish out cash to cover up their corrupt practices (he who pays the piper…) while real issues are left unattended to.
    Anyway, I’d leave the rest to the IMC to sort out. That is, if it isn’t the ‘toothless bull dog’ described by Tamba.
    I hope it isn’t.
    Bravo to the SEM team too, for publishing the stuff.

    18th May 2010

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