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Stephen Gaojia addresses SLAJ AGM

June 10, 2015 

It is a great pleasure to talk to you as a guest in your own program and not during our NERC weekly programs. For some of you, we have been seeing each other almost every Wednesday for the past eight months during the NERC weekly press conferences.  It has indeed been a long and hard eight months together in the fight against this unprecedented disease.

Let me hasten to say that whatever success NERC has scored would not have been possible without your cooperation. While it is true that Ebola has destroyed our nation, it is also true and clear that it has taught us a great lesson; that is, when we stand up together as a nation and as a people we can defeat whatever enemy or challenge that stands on our way.

Some experts believe that the fight against Ebola is about 20 percent medical; while the rest of the interventions are more psychosocial and other related approaches. We all saw that when journalists rose up to the fight, the message was quick to reach everyone and everywhere. The newspaper front pages were dominated by Ebola messages. Every radio and TV station in the country dedicated some airtime everyday for sensitisation programs. To a large extent even the medical people who were in the field were motivated by you; I mean you the journalists. The concern and respect you accorded them and their fallen colleagues helped in giving them courage that there are people who care about what they do and that their sacrifices for this nation are recognized by all.

Your efforts and sacrifices are major contributing factors that have brought us to where we are today.  We were counting hundreds of new infections per day but for the last several weeks since March 19, the highest new confirmed cases per day have hovered around single digits and the low teens. And for several days in between, we have recorded zero new confirmed cases.

During this trying period, one thing that has remained clearly visible is the transformational power of the media. When I say the media, I want to make particular reference to the journalists and other media practitioners not the machines. When you stood up to the challenge, we saw how the whole country was mobilised with people putting aside their personal loyalties, such as political party affiliations, tribal and regional alignments, and socio-cultural practices. Sierra Leone was united under one response — which was and still remains the National Ebola Response set up by His Excellency with the sole objective to defeat Ebola.

This is to say that you journalists have great powers to transform a nation. It was once said that “with great powers come great responsibilities”. This means that you have a great responsibility to the state: to report positively and constructively. The media is referred to as the fourth estate and that is what you must be; the fourth estate for national development not the fourth estate for national retrogression. It also underpins the fact that you are to strengthen discipline within the journalism profession and improve on the quality of reporting.

With the magnitude of power journalists posses, you are the beacon of hope, a voice  of the voiceless, a light in darkness, and the custodians of our democracy. Like all other professions, you must aspire for the highest standards, ensure that you attract the right calibre and quality of people needed to be part of this vibrant profession. Those that will make their individual interests subordinate to the national and collective interest. Those that have foresight to know the possible impact of their stories before publishing them.

To conclude, I want to urge you all to be mindful that Ebola is still with us, and any one case is a cause for concern because only one case came in from across the border; but today we have nearly 9,000 infections and over 3,500 deaths.  We must continue the vigilant and patriotic work till we reach zero + 42 days, declared Ebola free by WHO, and complete 90 days of heightened surveillance.

Together we will defeat Ebola.

I thank you all.

Stephen J. Gaojia

Chief Operating Officer (COO)

National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) Sierra Leone

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