By Yusufu S Bangura
Ahead of the June 24 elections, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), together with their implementing partners, has received 249, 898.73 Euro grant from Irish Aid in order to provide an enabling environment that fosters peaceful, informed and inclusive citizen’s participation in election processes nationwide.
The ceremony took place on Wednesday 17th May at Tower Hill in Freetown.
The project is titled: ‘Expanding the Democratic Space-Media capacity enhancement to Promote Peaceful Elections,Women’s Participation Public Interest and Conflict Mitigation in Sierra Leone’s June 24th 2023 election’
Giving an overview of the project, President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla thanked the Irish Ambassador for the support given to the consortium, stating that the project launched will last for six months and that it started in April and will end in September 2023.
He said during the project, they would address political tensions and divisions, restricted democratic space for ordinary citizens, disinformation and hate speech which is their biggest challenge because the incident that occurred in August 10 last year was as a result of misinformation.
He further stated that they would address the area of weak electoral laws, low level of economic development of the media, limited professionalism and capacity, strengthening the powers of the Independent Media Commission to enforce the Code of Conduct on elections.
The SLAJ president said the project will cover three areas in the electioneering process- before, during and after the elections.
He added that during the election they will promote peaceful engagement in the electoral process, provide platforms for dialogue on critical issues.
He also said that during the elections, they will make sure that journalists report the critical phases, from voting to counting of ballots and announcement of results.
“This project will target 320 journalists who will be trained on conflict and gender-sensitive reporting. We will recruit and deploy 550 reporters across the country. 250 female journalists will be trained on safety and security in elections. 25 religious leaders will be trained on violence prevention and mitigation strategies and 15 Rapid Response Team members will be deployed in five regional headquarters,” he said.
Ireland Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Claire Buckely said the launching of the project marked their first grant partnership with a consortium of key media and faith-based institutions in the country, so she felt good to see media practitioners and religious leaders at the event.
She said the project is one part of Ireland’s support to the holding of credible, inclusive and peaceful elections in the coming weeks, adding that the European Union 2018 Election Observation Mission made specific recommendations around strengthening the media to report on elections in an independent, impartial and professional manner.
“It is our hope that this project will contribute to that aim,” she said.
She continued that they believe that a free, impartial and independent media is essential for democracy to thrive, that media informs and mobilise citizens for meaningful debates and hold duty bearers to account.
“It is part of our broader commitment to strengthen citizen’s participation in democratic processes and institutions. At a time when the country is experiencing increase tensions influenced by hate speech, fake news, misinformation through social media, the role of the media and religious leaders is critical, so together we can redirect citizens towards free and peaceful exchange of ideas and provide credible and reliable information on the electoral process,” she said.
She said they believe the project will contribute to focusing the elections discourse on policy rather than personality, substance rather than regional and tribal rhetoric.
“We hope this project will support effective coverage and overall transparency as well as the integrity of the electoral process,” she said.