SLAJ launches 2023 media manifesto

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Key media stakeholders officially launching the media manifesto

By Yusufu S. Bangura

With support from the European Union in Sierra Leone and International IDEA, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has on Monday, 5th June, launched the 2023 media manifesto titled ‘the Media We Want: A Manifesto for an Empowered and Inclusive in Sierra Leone’.

The official launch of the Media Manifesto took place at the New Brookfield’s hotel, Jomo Kenyatta Road, Freetown.

Speaking during the launching ceremony, President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said since the end of the civil war in 2002, the media in Sierra Leone have fulfilled a key democratic function, keeping the public informed providing, a feedback mechanism to the government and holding those in power accountable.

“In preparation for the upcoming democratic elections,we have developed this manifesto as a roadmap for an envisioned future media,” he said.

He said the fortune of the media started with the historic repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act that criminalizes libel, which hindered media freedom in the country.

He said the repeal was a milestone in the media as many journalists were jailed under that law with the profession criminalised, adding that Sierra Leone has made significant improvement in the world press freedom index.

The SLAJ President continues that in 2020, the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act, 2020 (Act No. 5 of 2020)’ was passed into law which strengthened the Commission’s regulatory powers and provisions to address the perennial problem of conditions of service of journalists.

He added the Government has been giving annual subvention to SLAJ from 2018 to date and in 2022, the government, media stakeholders and partners hosted the first Media Viability and Investment Conference in April which was to promote and call for a viable media ecosystem that works in the public interest with the essential tools to advance democracy, prosperity and stability.

He said free speech and media freedom and independence are crucial to good governance, democracy and citizens’ participation in the democratic process.

 He added that free speech is a fundamental human right that enables individuals to express themselves without fear of retaliation or censorship.

President Nasralla said media freedom and independence are crucial to ensuring that the public has access to accurate and diverse information, which is essential for a functioning democracy.

He noted that without free speech and media freedom, individuals and groups can be silenced, marginalized, or oppressed, which he said can lead to a lack of accountability and a breakdown in trust between citizens and government.

“This manifesto is to consolidate the significant gains we have made in the last five years, and represents our collective vision and aspiration as journalists for the media we want in the next years. We want the buy-in of politicians and hope that this document will serve as the framework for all future interventions in the media sector in Sierra Leone,” he said.

European Union Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Manuel Müller said they will continue to stand with the media, to offer opportunities that can further strengthen its capacity, and to support media initiatives to protect media freedom and pluralism.

He added that they will support IMC with equipment and institutional capacity support for the Commission to capably implement its renewed and strengthened mandate, as enshrined in the IMC Act of 2020.

While presenting the manifesto to media stakeholders, Dr. Francis Sowa said 278 respondents from all the regions took part in the survey.

He said based on the consultations and analysis from the survey, eight priorities including Media Freedom, Safety and Security of Journalists, Access to Information, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, emerged.

In the area of Media Freedom, Safety and Security of Journalists, he said government should guarantee and ensure media freedom for all practitioners and should also continue to implement and review constitutional provisions as well as other existing legal and regulatory frameworks on media freedom that aid media practitioners in their work.

In the area of Safety and Security of Journalists, Dr. Sowa said the government together with other security institutions, political parties and members of society, should ensure the safety and security of journalists, especially in their line of duty and the Judiciary should take appropriate action against people found guilty of attacking, harassing and intimidating journalists.

While launching the manifesto, Former President of SLAJ, Kelvin Lewis, said the launch of the media manifesto was immensely  significant in the run-up to the elections.

He continues that the occasion marks a pivotal moment in the democratic journey where the power of the media is crucial in shaping the future of the nation.

“As journalists, we are the vanguards of truth, the custodians of transparency and the advocates for an informed electorate. Our responsibility to the public is sacred and the role we play in ensuring fair and unbiased reporting cannot be underestimated. With this media manifesto, we reaffirm our commitment to the principles that underpin a vibrant and accountable media landscape,” he said.

He said as the election is fast approaching, the role of journalists became even more critical and the media manifesto outlines media commitment to upholding integrity, impartiality and professionalism in reporting.

He encouraged journalists to make sure that they give credible information to the public before, during and after the elections.

“Today, as we launch this media manifesto, let us be the change-makers who shape a media landscape that embodies truth, transparency and accountability. Together, let us pave the way for a future where every citizen is empowered with knowledge, where the media serve as a beacon of hope and where democracy thrives. May this media manifesto ignites a new era of responsible journalism as we prepare for the upcoming elections,” he said.

The Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Sawray, made government’s steadfast commitment to an open and diverse media promises, to shed light on the nation’s triumphs, challenges, and aspirations, ensuring a vibrant and informed society for years to come.

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