By Alusine Sesay
Press Freedom Day in Sierra Leone on 3 May saw the official launch of the Media Development Strategy, a document developed to address the challenges facing the media in the country.
The launch, which was held at the Bank Complex at Kingtom, attracted media gurus from across the country, government ministers and key stakeholders.
Speaking during the event, Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Kanu, said the press and the government have a wonderful relationship and that Sierra Leone is among few countries in Africa that allows its citizens to participate in government decision–making through phone calls on radio.
He said the country is unique as a result of the lessons ‘we learnt’ and that people should be allowed to talk so that rumours would not be transformed into misunderstanding.
“Let the people talk so that rumours would not be transformed into misunderstanding,” he said.
He said the country has adopted and domesticated many documents on press freedom and that the recently enacted Freedom of Information law manifests government’s willingness to adhering to tenets of the rule of law.
“Government has the responsibility to create the enabling environment for citizens to access information worldwide,” he said, noting that plans were underway to extend the fibre optic cable to the provinces for easy access by the public.
President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, SLAJ, Kelvin Lewis said the changing dynamics in the media makes the launch of the strategy very much vital in that the document would help the media contribute to the development of the country.
He said SLAJ viewed the document as an attempt to shape the media so that Sierra Leone would maintain the history of having a vibrant press.
He noted that press freedom is an important tool in national development and called on the government’s support for a speedy implementation of the media development strategy.
United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, Country Representative in Sierra Leone, Sudjto Mukerjee said they believe in the media as an important pillar of good governance which help to build the nation.
He said that if the media was used negatively, there would be lots of resentment among citizens, and cautioned that greater freedom demands greater responsibilities.
He maintained that the media is very vibrant in Sierra Leone and that UNDP has been very supportive to media development in the country, noting that the launch depicted a road map for the expression of key issues that affect the public.
He promised the organization’s continued support to the implementation of the media development strategy.
Coordination of the Media Reform Coordinating Group, MRCG, Hindolo Tonya Musa said the launch was in response to the country’s media challenges on World Press Freedom Day.
The lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication at Fourah Bay College, said the media development strategy is meant to ensure transformation of the media in Sierra Leone through analyses that would direct the media towards the attainment of good governance, noting that if the media is sick, then democratic too would be sick.
He said the MRCG was set up to ensure a transparent and accountable implementation of the media development strategy and that the ongoing constitutional review process would give prominence to the strategy.