BY MOHAMED M. SESAY (LUCKY)
Happy and prosperous New Year to my avid readers and followers since this article happens to be my first article for 2022. This particular edition is tailored around none payment of advertorial debts by government institutions and other private sector actors. It is an undiluted truism that advertorial is the life support oxygen for media institutions especially for Sierra Leone. This marathon delay in payment for advertorial has been a compelling force behind the abject media poverty in Sierra Leone.
In avoidance of the assumption that all my readers know what advertisement is, prompted me to drop a quick one for the edification of all that an advertorial is a form of advertisement in a newspaper, magazine or a website which involves giving information about the product in the form of an article. Usually, a brand/institution pays the publisher for such advertisement. They are used by marketers to educate prospective consumers about the features of a product. It can be used to target a specific set of people by choosing the right medium to publish the advertorial.
Furtherance to the above, the major functions of the mass media are to provide education, entertainment and information to the audience. For example, the revenue from subscriptions of readers alone is quite inadequate to support the publication of newspapers and magazines. It is the advertisements that they carry bring them more revenue which enable newspapers and magazines to reduce their cover price and address their administrative costs. Selling of space or time by the media to advertisers is essential for the financial viability of the media. Thus, availability of timely advertising revenue is a per-requisite for the growth of media through introduction of new media vehicles and for continuation of existing ones.
For over decades now, there has been a consistent determination whether overtly or covertly by advertisers in Sierra Leone be it government agencies or private sector actors, in killing media house due to none payment of advertorial debts. This deep seated bureaucracy in some if not all Ministries, Departments and Agencies in terms of handling and processing payment of advertorial debts for media houses, has contributed to the aging media poverty in this part of the world. In recent time, President Julius Maada Bio has been making a clarion call for media investment in the country. The Courier lauds such call by Mr. President but however, I think the satisfactory way of promoting media investment is to overhaul the snail-pace nature of paying media houses for adverts run.
This may fascinate my readers that sometimes it takes six months to one year government institutions holding media houses enslaved of their advertorial revenue. It is still difficult for me to fathom whether these advertisers mainly government operatives, are parochial in their reasonability that media houses have to pay their staff, pay bills and buy stationaries for their daily publications. Instances have been visualized wherein, media houses naming and shaming top government institutions and private sector actors for none payment of advertorial debts. A-Z has multiple instances wherein, advertisers are yet to pay advertorial debts for over nine months now. I will start naming and shaming advertorial debts mongers in my next edition.
The Courier will therefore want to suggest that if we are to address the none payment of advertorial debts, media regulation agencies whom I consider to be very lackadaisical in this drive, MUST start doing the needful in ensuring that advertisers are promptly paying media houses for adverts run. Glancing through the objective of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), it sends a glad tiding which aims for the development of Journalism practice in Sierra Leone, promoting the enduring trust in our profession as guardians of the fourth estate. The objective of SLAJ further provides to uphold the ideals of journalism, work for exemplary standards of professional practice, as well as preserve and enhance the dignity and prestige of the Fourth estate.
Unfortunately, I most hasten to state without a modicum of hesitant that the mission, Vision and Objective of SLAJ especially under this current dispensation of SLAJ President D MONK, are just gallivanting in principles and not translated in pragmatic terms. If really SLAJ is serious of preserving the dignity and prestige of journalism in the country, then pushing for timely payment of advertorial debts MUST be the mantra of the executive. A suitable way of restoring the dignity and prestige of journalism in the country is to fight media poverty because media poverty leads to reckless and unethical journalism.
Also the country’s media regulatory body the Independent Media Commission equally needs to intensify the effort in ensuring that media poverty is fought with every vim and vigor. It will be a disservice on my part if I fail to commend the Independent Media Commission for transmogrifying the welfare of reporters aligns with the minimum salary wage of the country. The New IMC code of practice compels media houses to provide other remunerations including payment of NASSIT for their staff. This is truly commendable. However, government provides subsidy for the State Broadcaster Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation for its operation. Unlike other media houses, they pegged their operation on the meager revenue they generate from advertorial.
Therefore, the Independent Media Commission should not be short-sighted of the fact that it is only through prompt payment of advertorial debts that will smoothly pave the way of media houses in upholding the conditions of service proposed in the new Independent Media Commission Code of practice. It is high time the Independent Media Commission in syndicate with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, to start formulating regulations for prompt payment of advertorial debts.
With the recent press statement from the Guild of Editors Sierra Leone in reviewing and increasing prize list for Newspaper advertisement, reassures hope to restore dignity and prestige in the profession. This is a true definition of astute leadership exhibited by the Guild of Editors Sierra Leone. But now that a notice has been sent to advertisers for an increment of advertorial prize come March 2022, I think there is more to do in ensuring prompt payment of advertorial debts. It is now time SLAJ and IMC to join the bandwagon of Guild of Editors in putting mechanism that compels advertisers not to become debt mongers. It takes collective effort to fight media poverty in Sierra Leone of which SLAJ and IMC should take the lead.