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ADDRESS

SLAJ @ 49

Statement by the President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla

Friday, 8th June 2020

Warm greetings Colleagues and welcome.

Today we proudly celebrate the 49th anniversary of our darling Association.

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate every member of SLAJ, more especially the surviving founding members of our noble association (Hon.

Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, Mrs. Bernadette Cole, Mr. Christo Johnson and others).

Let me also congratulate our senior colleagues in the Veteran Journalists Union (VEJU), who have blazed the trail before us.

As we celebrate, let me also remember our departed colleagues, especially those who left us recently- Chernor Ojuku Sesay, Rod Mac Johnson and others.

I kindly ask that we observe a moment of silence in tribute to all of them.

May the souls of the faithfully departed rest in perfect peace.

Colleagues, you will recall that because of the COVID-19 we held our first virtual general meeting on 17th May, 2020 where we agreed to postpone our AGM 2020 until such a time the COVID-19 restrictions, especially the ban on public gatherings, are lifted.

Therefore, the report I am giving right now is to mark our foundation day. I am also taking the opportunity to highlight some of the activities we have undertaken in the past one year. A comprehensive State of the Association Report for the period, including from our regional executives, affiliate bodies and emissaries will be delivered at the AGM whenever it is possible to do so.

Colleagues, you will recall that on the night of 13th July, 2019 I was elected President of SLAJ with an overwhelming vote of confidence and trust. After

the declaration of my victory, a petition was lodged by my contender which the SLAJEC took pains to address.

Eventually, on the 15th of August, 2019 a formal handing over ceremony took place at the British Council Hall to ensure a smooth transition of power, the first ever in the history of SLAJ.

Let me use this opportunity once more to thank all those who voted for me and those who did not.

Colleagues, as we celebrate this particular birthday in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be proud of our history as an Association and the strides we have made to ensure we protect and promote freedom of expression and of the press and the public’s right to information that is helping them make informed decisions in their daily lives.

We have a lot to celebrate about and a lot to think about for the future of SLAJ in a bid to make our Association self-reliant and independent. SLAJ has gone through many transformations since 1971; from few members to hundreds of members; from an Association that was administered in a bag to one with an operational Secretariat and corporate governance identity; from a single Association to one with affiliate bodies. At a time when other moral guarantors are easily falling into the hands of politics, we have remained the Last Man Standing, because we are SLAJ.

With our current standing and profile the future can only be bright.

That is why I want to implore all of us to work towards having one united SLAJ. We must take our SLAJ very seriously and contribute to its development at all times. We must not only be interested in the affairs of SLAJ during elections. When we (the majority) elect an Executive, we must support it to succeed. We must volunteer our services to SLAJ. And above all, we must learn to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It’s only with this unity and love for ourselves and our Association that we will be able to achieve our goals.

Colleagues, this my first year in office has not been all plain sailing. There have been hiccups along the way as one will expect. We started off with courtesy calls on the Minister of Information and Communications, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone, to name a few. I want to specially thank my predecessor, Mr. Kelvin Lewis, for introducing me around and guiding my initial steps and for performing his role provided for in our Constitution as Ex-officio.

Soon after, I had the opportunity to address His Excellency the President Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio and colleagues at the second Presidential Media Cocktail at Radisson Blu on 13th December, 2019. We had a good interaction with H. E. the President and his team and we look forward to the next one.

As I was still grappling to find my feet, Coronavirus struck the world, grinding every development activity to a halt. The pandemic came with restrictions limiting many freedoms, although they differ from country to country.

SLAJ-CRC

Even before Sierra Leone recorded its index COVID-19 case, we had formed the SLAJ Coronavirus Response Committee (SLAJ-CRC) to coordinate the Association’s response to the fight against the virus. The SLAJ-CRC immediately went to work by producing public sensitization jingle and video on the preventive measures against COVID-19 which continue to be broadcast by the media.

This was followed by national simulcast programs on radio and tv, especially during the lockdowns instituted by the Government. All these were done without any outside support.

Let me at this point continue to thank the SLBC, AYV Media Empire, radio stations and members that have been supporting this national course.

Immediately also, through our affiliate body, the Sierra Leone Reporters Union, we published Safety and Ethical guidelines to ensure the safety of journalists who are also frontline workers.

The SLAJ-CRC continues to interface with the Ministry of Information and Communications, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the NACOVERC to support the Government of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 national response program.

From our weekly ‘Corona Tok’ simulcast program to the Leh Wi Dreb Corona daily program, we continue to play a leading role in the area of public information in the national response program against COVID-19.

On Sunday, 19th April, 2020, we also officially launched the ‘Wear A Mask’ campaign to support the Government of Sierra Leone in encouraging everybody in the country to wear a face mask when going out in public.

Finally, we are now having trainings on COVID-19 reporting for journalists. On Tuesday and Wednesday this week NACOVERC organised training for DJs, Presenters and Producers to equip them with the right knowledge on COVID-19 so they would be able to engage their audiences on the subject and be in a better position to answer their questions and concerns.

Similar trainings supported by UNDP through the MRCG and SLAJ started yesterday in Freetown, and will extend to the provinces over the weekend.

Press Freedom

Because of the COVID-19 we could not celebrate this year’s World Press Freedom day as usual, but we were able to mark the day with a virtual seminar on the topic: ‘The Media and the COVID-19 Pandemic’.

We say thanks to the members who presented their perspectives on the media’s role during this pandemic and how we are coping with the challenge of ‘infodemic- fake news and misinformation and disinformation.

I also represented SLAJ in a World Press Freedom Day regional webinar organised by UNESCO through the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) to great acclaim from the organisers.

Criminal Libel

Despite the recent withdrawal of the repeal bill in Parliamentary proceedings we continue to be hopeful for this law to be expunged by our Honourable MPs.

This is just a pot hole along the way.

We have no reason to be pessimistic when we consider how far we have come and how near we are now to the finish line.

To strengthen our advocacy and engagement we are in the process of forming a SLAJ Criminal Libel Repeal Lobbying Group to engage key personalities in the Legislature to get their buy in. This group will consist mainly of members who have access to the corridors of power, so they also will use their influence to build support for the repeal.

We also continue to admonish all of us to practice strictly by the rules.

Talking about Press Freedom, let me bring to your attention the continued harassment of our former President and current BBC reporter, Umaru Fofana, by ‘politically motivated’ persons. We have received repeated complaints from Mr. Fofana in that regard.

SLAJ will come out with a statement detailing the harassment he’s going through in the coming days. 

Disciplinary Committee

In swift response to the concerns of the Sierra Leone Parliament in relation to the repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, we have reconstituted and strengthened the SLAJ Disciplinary Committee as one of our self-regulation mechanisms. The DC is headed by our own founding member and doyen of journalism Mrs. Bernadette Cole.

The DC is now supported by District and Regional Monitors who will report concerns of unprofessional media conduct from the provinces.

This DC will be both reactive and proactive. They will not only wait to hear complaints but will embark on public education programs on the role of the media in our democracy and educate our membership on the SLAJ Code of Ethics.

I urge every member to support and respect the DC and abide by their directives.

The Mediation Committee on WIMSAL Impasse

In December 2019 I had the opportunity for the first time as your President to witness the WIMSAL AGM in Kenema. This was a long overdue AGM which was fraught with many challenges. Thankfully, it was eventually held; during which their elections was also conducted. Sadly, the elections results were contested and petitioned during a very difficult financial period for SLAJ.

The delay in providing the requested funds to the SLAJEC to conduct an investigation into the petition proved fatal.

By the time the funds were provided (partly by the MRCG) and SLAJEC came out with its findings there appeared to be a division within the affiliate body. As you would all know by now, the SLAJEC nullified the elections.

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However, we are in the process of finding a pathway to heal the division in WIMSAL. Let me take this opportunity to humbly appeal to all WIMSAL members to choose peace and sisterhood over hate and unforgiveness.

I pray that God will visit the hearts of those aggrieved members and sooth their beautiful souls. It is my wish that whatever differences we have within SLAJ and within the affiliate bodies we will try to resolve them. We should not allow these things to divide us. We must come together and learn to forgive.

In attempting to resolve the issue we have set up a mediation committee. We appeal to all WIMSAL members to cooperate with the Mediation Committee and we look forward to their recommendations.

SLAJ/Mass Comm Seminar Series

SLAJ and the Mass Communications Department at FBC, USL decided to launch the Virtual Seminar Series as a platform to discuss key issues relating to the development of the media.

Three presentations have been made so far.

The seminar series is also open to members and the general public.

Land for SLAJ HQ

In his most recent address to the Sierra Leone Parliament, H. E. President Julius Maada Bio reiterated his commitment to provide land and help build an ultra-modern headquarters for SLAJ.

This is welcome news and I wish to report that the Ministry of Lands and Country Planning had taken us around Freetown to identify a plot for the proposed SLAJ Headquarters, but we are yet to locate a suitable one.

We will continue to search for a suitable plot within the CBD and other easily accessible locations.

Finance

We are financially constrained.

We have not even raised money to pay for the auditing of our books for this year –(Baker Tilly).

We are also in arrears for the day to day financial management services provided by FNL (Freetown Nominees).

There’s also the rent for the SLAJ HQ at Campbell Street coming up.

We pay Staff salaries, their NASSIT and NRA every month.

We have requested for the Government Subvention for 2019/2020 and we hope to receive that in due course. Part of this money will go towards paying of rent for the SLAJ HQ and independent regional offices.

We are expecting revenue for ongoing SLAJ-CRC corona programs. However, this money will just pass through our accounts and go to the media houses.

SLAJ needs to think about ways of generating revenue.

Future Plans

Planting season

Colleagues, I want to consider this my first year in office as Planting season. My administration will work hard to ensure we have a good harvest.

Criminal Libel

We want to strengthen our lobbying of and engagement with MPs for the repeal of the Criminal Libel

Land

We shall continue our engagement with the Ministry of Lands to secure a suitable land for SLAJ HQ and its regional offices.

Resource center

We have received a donation of six laptops from the US Embassy which we want to use for the resuscitation of our resource center with reliable internet facility.

Gender

We are still committed to addressing the challenges facing women journalists in Sierra Leone. We urge media owners to adopt gender policies in their respective media houses and invest in gender sensitive reporting to advance the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone.

Strengthen our affiliate bodies

We shall work towards reviewing the governance and operational structures of our affiliate bodies and make them more efficient and effective.

Golden Jubilee

Finally, Colleagues, let me inform you quite in advance that this same day next year SLAJ will be 50 years old. I challenge every SLAJ member to come up with ideas and to contribute to successful organization of Golden Jubilee.

God bless SLAJ.

I thank you all for listening.

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