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EBOLA AND THE ROLE OF JOURNALISTS

OCTOBER 13, 2014 By Joseph Fomolu – E-mail: josephfomolu@yahoo.com

Ebola is a necessary evil. It is an evil because it has killed more than 3,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. The first three countries have registered the highest number of deaths. These deaths have reduced the human resource of the most affected countries.

More than 50 health workers in West Africa have died while trying to save lives. It has also driven away investors. Ninety percent of airlines have suspended flights to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. To the outside world, our countries have become black sheep because of Ebola. However, God bless the Chinese, the Brits, Ghana, and international organizations for their genuine concern for us by sending in funds, personnel and medical personnel to combat the Ebola scourge.

Besides, it is no longer business as usual in the provinces; hence increase in prices of basic foodstuffs. Two-fourth of Sierra Leoneans quarantined.

Ebola is a blessing because it has exposed the challenges of the health sector; in spite of the much talked about huge amount of money allocated to the health sector for free medicine and free medical equipment in Sierra Leone. For instance, all ambulances which UNDP donated to our hospitals across Sierra Leone had broken down before the Ebola tsunami. Our government could not repair them because of pumps, tyres, batteries, etc (UNDP repaired most of these ambulances two weeks ago).

Ebola has equally broken the egg about the alleged annual allocation of money to Members of Parliament for development of their constituencies where some are like tourists who visit the Taj Mahal in India once in a lifetime. This disease has also exposed the type of curricula our Medical Schools have been offering over the years. I am yet to investigate WhatsApp alleged speculations on the source of the Ebola virus.

JOURNALISTS AND EBOLA

Journalists are the most useful citizens of any democratic state. Their role in nation-building is sweet and bitter. They risk their lives to play their bona fide constitutional role of keeping government accountability. In the process, some lose their lives or are imprisoned for writing or saying the truth; what those who used to chastise government officials when they were studying at universities and colleges for, would loathe constructive criticism of their actions now because they are the governors.

Among the organs of Government – Executive Legislature and Judiciary – the Media is the fourth. Civil Society is the fifth arm of Government. The media inform, entertain, employ, etc. This is the traditional role of the media; played from pre-historic time.

Recognising it as an indispensable state organ, the great American politician Thomas Jefferson, said, if he were to choose between a government without a press and government with the press, he will choose the latter. Since Jefferson’s pronouncement, the media have been held in high esteem by all Americans.

For Sierra Leone, the role of the media is recognized on paper not in practice. Journalists that report on the activities of alleged corrupt   government officials are branded as opposition pen-pushers. Journalists who condone corrupt practices are hailed. These partisan journalists are apologists.

However, with the intrusion of Ebola, government recognizes the complementary role of journalists in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and other media bodies have taken the lead to fight this deadly disease since its outbreak. Radio stations across Sierra Leone are using airtime to raise awareness on the causes, symptoms and cure of Ebola. Similarly, newspapers, film and music industries, have all joined in the fight against the most deadly disease of this century.

Radio stations have created special airtime and jingles for Ebola sensitization, while newspapers have set up special columns and pages for Ebola. Musicians have all joined in the fray to inform Sierra Leoneans about Ebola in the local languages of Sierra Leoneans. This is developmental journalism; the type of journalism that does not criticize, but give reports on government activities only.

SOCIAL CHANGE

The role of journalists in this fight is not small. It is herculean because it involves the changing of people’s knowledge, attitudes, practices and behaviour. Pockets of Sierra Leoneans are still denying the existence of Ebola. Those who know about Ebola are yet to take the precautionary measures to prevent it.

For instance, people have buckets of chlorine water but hardly wash their hands regularly. In fact, many people laundered their clothes with the soap supplied during the three days open detention.

Some medical personnel are yet to use gloves while performing their task to save lives. I have been to a Health Centre in Bo two times to check my Blood Pressure (BP). The health official who put the BP machine on my arm did not use any glove.

Passenger vehicles are still overcrowding passengers. Which means, if APC (Avoid People’s Compound) may me working, ABC (Avoid Body Contact) is not adhered to. The media therefore have to target the knowledge, attitudes, practices and behaviour of people to combat Ebola and to restore our economy and save lives. Hence messages targeting their audience must be repeated.

Changing the attitude and behaviour of people does not take place in one night, but days, months or even years.

JOURNALISTS LOVE SIERRA LEONE

It is a fact that Sierra Leonean journalists love Sierra Leone. That is why they have joined other groups in the fight against Ebola. They are aware of the diabolical impact on anybody living in Sierra Leone. That is why they have been sacrificing to do their work from very cold broadcasting studios to present programmes on Ebola.

Hope the role of journalists in the fight against Ebola will make an indelible mark on President Ernest Bai Koroma to consider repealing the obnoxious and draconian Seditious Libel law, including recognizing Thomas Jefferson’s view, “If I am to choose between a government without a press and a government with the press, I will choose the latter.”