By Alhaji Haruna Sani
With funding from the European Union, the Independent Media Commission (IMC) in collaboration with the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, (IDEAD International), has launched and popularized the election coverage reporting and print and electronic media regulations.
The two key documents were launched and popularized on Monday, March 27, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Aberdeen in Freetown. The launching and popularization of the two documents will be replicated in the provinces, to keep media practitioners abreast of their crucial role in elections coverage and reporting.
While officially launching the two documents, Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rhaman Swaray,explained government strides and commitments to ensuring free media, despite President Bio being the most vilified presidential candidates.
He said the two documents would serve as formidable reference materials for present and future journalists. He disclosed that government had already set some fund for public interest media.
He emphasized the need for media practitioners to be aware of the social responsibility theory so as to avoid reckless journalism.
“Nobody has any reason to be irresponsible because all of the institutional foundations are in place, including the IMC guidelines, the Right to Access Information,” he said.
He commended the leadership of the IMC for a job well done and concluded by officially launching the documents.
In his statement, IMC Chairperson, Dr. Victor Massaquoi recalled that fourteen months ago he took over the commission when it was in agony with staff morale at its lowest, coupled with several challenges.
“Today, the story is relatively different.Of the sixteen challenges we inherited and documented, over twelve of them have been addressed. Today, I am super exited and elated for the launching of these two documents,” he said.
He said the journey has not been easy. He encouraged media practitioners present to read, understand and apply the two documents because over 95% of the content came from media practitioners during consultations.
He also encouraged practitioners to hold fast to the cable of professionalism and avoid being swayed away by desperate politicians or other individuals.
On behalf of IDEA International, Tawanda Chimhini said International IDEA is an intercontinental institution that supports democracy worldwide, adding that they are currently working on supporting state and non-state institutions.
He said with the Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) signed between IMC and International IDEA covers a broad range of areas and one of which is to ensure that the capacity of the media is enhanced to contribute to the rolling out of elections in a credible manner.
He added that the media has a vital role in electioneering processes. “International IDEA has discovered that there are three broad challenges with regarding the role of the media. There is always lack of clarity regarding the role of the media in elections, political incentives to aid the role of the media always come late and failure by government, institutions and funding communities that there is timely assistance and continuous support to the media,” he said.
Ahemed Sahid Nasralla, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, (SLAJ) said the media landscape is constantly evolving with the new technology constantly emerging, thereby expressing the need for such guidelines by the IMC.
He calld on journalists to be professional especially during electioneering periods, noting that the new documents would help the media to continue to play critical role as watch dog of democracy.
President Nasralla expressed that SLAJ will be close to the IMC and be committed to ensure that the news guidelines remain relevant and protective in years to come not just during elections.
He called for continuous support for the media not just during elections. He commended the IMC for its marvelous job under the leadership of Dr. Victor Massaquoi for putting such document together.
“The media has achieved so much under the leadership of President Bio with the fantastic leadership of the Minister of Information and Communications. SLAJ would, under no circumstances will defend any journalist or media house that decides to be reckless. Nobody will hide behind free media to score selfish political goals,” he concluded.
Meaningful contributions were also made by representatives National Elections Watch Guild of Editors, Independent Radio Network and the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone.