Opening Remarks by Joe H. Pemagbi at Sierra Leone Reporters Union SLAJ Presidential Debate; May 31, 2016


June 1, 2016

Hon Minister of Information and Communication, Hon members of parliament, members of the fourth estate, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am humbled to be chosen as the moderator for SLAJ’s Presidential Debate for the second consecutive year. I am informed that like last year, this campaign promises to be another tough one between two prominent and active journalists. The role of journalists in society remain very critical in the sustenance of our society’s values because they do not only inform and educate us, we expect them to be the agents of positive change.

Our expectations are high and we – the general populace, keep raising the bar even when we see obvious instances of yellow journalism. Some journalists forget that ‘‘Concocted lies DO NOT convert to truths’ – Serge Benhayon. As Gandhi said, no matter what you do, your guiding principle should be ‘service to the people’. People here does not mean just who pays you or the highest bidder but the ordinary man whose interest you must seek to ensure that his/her voice is heard loud enough to ensure effective delivery of social services. The school pupil whose interest lies in being provided a conducive learning atmosphere to be educated to proceed to the next level, the pregnant woman who wants to receive affordable quality medical care and so on.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the media landscape in Sierra Leone, like in most other African democracies is changing rapidly due to the advent of social media. Modern technologies make it far easier to report in near-real time. This has given rise to aggressive citizens journalism. Considerable effort must be made to ensure that media democracy is promoted in Sierra Leone with the advent of the fiber optic that is gradually being installed around the country. Information technology should be used to empower ‘individual citizens and promote democratic ideals’ by disseminating credible information on governance matters.

The question however remains, how we navigate corridors of private ownership, intense regulation that is sometimes flawed and abusive and captured by either private sector or the state or in other circumstances both colluding to rob the citizens of their rights to reliable information. As Don Rather put it, ‘ratings don’t last, good journalism does’. It is therefore the responsibility of all stakeholders – government through MDAs, civil society actors, international partners and the wider public to help the journalists to deliver on their civic responsibility because ‘ there can be no democracy without daily citizenship’. Citizenship means we have to be responsible enough to our country by not calling white, yellow or black, white.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me end my opening remarks by reminding the audience here, especially members of the fourth estate that you owe Sierra Leone the moral responsibility to listen to the manifestos of both candidates carefully to discern their packages for the country. This is a unique opportunity that the reporters union have given not only you the aspirants but the general public listening and watching the proceedings out there on online, television and radio to question the decisions you make at your convention.

Let me also remind you all that ‘a free press is not only a right, and not only a privilege, but a necessity (an organic necessity) in a great society – Walter Lippman (American Journalist).

Let me reiterate this in the words of Mahatma Gandhi who reminds us that ‘the sole aim of journalism should be service (to the people) –

Journalists should therefore not only be perceived ‘to be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information’, they should walk the talk.

For Editors and the rest of your teams, your code of ethics should specify guidelines for ensuring accuracy, objectivity, balance and fairness otherwise you will be unfair to society.

Let me end by reminding you all that posterity will judge you for the decisions you make at your convention in Bo over the weekend. Reflect and choose the best candidate in the interest of the land that we love.

Thank you very much and good luck to all aspirants.