By Ibrahim Tarawallie and Victoria Saffa
President of the |Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) last Friday stated that sending journalists behind bars will not intimidate members of the Fourth Estate, nor will they be afraid of challenging critical decisions in society to effect positive change.
Speaking at the Association’s Annual General Meeting, hosted at the Wusum Hotel in Makeni, Kelvin Lewis revealed that for the past twelve months more than a dozen media practitioners have been put behind bars by government officials and members of the public, a figure unprecedented in the history of Sierra Leone.
“Our profession is at a cross-roads and this has been challenged by members of the public to either sit back and look or start practicing truth and ethics. The practice of Journalism must not be a crime but a sacred and responsible one,” he said.
In his keynote address, Presidential Adviser to the President, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, who stepped in President Ernest Bai Koroma, after a last minute cancellation by the latter to attend an emergency meeting of heads of states of the Economic Community of West Africa States, reiterated government’s commitment and determination to ensuring that journalists are treated very seriously like any other professions, provided they ply their trade within the ethics of the profession.
According to the former president of SLAJ, a major step in curbing and reshaping the noble profession, which has been in existence since 1801, was for delegates to ensure that they clearly define who a journalist is during their two days deliberations.
“We are committed to ensuring that all other tertiary institutions respect the media and its roles towards national development. We will continue to allow a level playing field for free press to exist in the country as was demonstrated by the non-interference into editorial content of any media house,” he said.
Alhaji Kargbo pointed out that the media must serve as a vehicle for accountability and transparency, a reason why the Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) partners with the media umbrella organisation.
He ended up by calling on journalists to constantly exhibit their sense of independence and ignore ill-motivated people from using them.
Earlier, Acting Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Makeni who chaired the opening session, Ptofessor Reverend Father Joseph Alimamy Turay described the AGM as one that will play a vibrant role in reshaping the media landscape in the country from a transition period to that of consolidation.
Mayor of the Makeni City Council, Sunkarie Kabba Kamara, commended SLAJ for choosing her city for this year’s AGM despite the present economic dire strait in the country.
She advised media practitioners to continue their agenda setting roles in society by constructively holding government accountable in its development strides, and urged SLAJ members to continue their exemplary work even after the meeting.