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The Rottenness of the IMC and itsEffect on the Media – My take!

October 14, 2015 By Mohamed Massaquoi

For the past one decade or so, I have been a practicing journalism in Sierra Leone; starting from the cradle as a cub reporter, rising through the ranks from Eastern Region Bureau Chief to senior political reporter at Concord Times newspaper – one of the leading media outlets in the country.

Over the years, I have come across good journalists – both local and international – who in one way or the other, greatly impacted the development of the media in Sierra Leone. I make bold to state, and with authority, that the Sierra Leone media landscape has improved considerably, now boasting of practitioners with outstanding pedigree.

Sierra Leone is experiencing media pluralism with media institutions ranging from community radio stations to newspapers, magazines, TV stations, among others. A lot of trainings on ethics and professional media practice have been conducted to ensure that practitioners uphold the cardinal principles of professional journalistic practice with specific reference to the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Code of Practice.

The establishment of the IMC by an Act of Parliament in 2000 was to effectively and efficiently monitor and regulate the operation of the media with an independent lens. However, this singular mandate of the IMC has started dwindling of late and if strong measures are not taken, the institution may be hijacked by desperate political zombies.

I am convinced that the IMC can make a good institution if the right people constitute the Board of the Commission as Commissioners. The Commission as a media regulatory body should display enormous transparency and professionalism, and should be seen as credible.

It is enshrined in the IMC Act of 2008 (as amended) that the President should appoint the Chairman and Commissioners of the IMC “on the advice of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ)”. The reason for this by the framers of the Act was deliberate; it is simply because SLAJ – as the umbrella body for journalists practicing in the country – has the competence to identify experienced, professional and well respected individuals from among its ranks to serve in the Commission, as the intension was for the media to self-regulate itself, and not regulated by politicians as has sometimes been the case.

However, not too long ago, members of SLAJ recommended names of experienced and professional colleagues to President Ernest Bai Koroma to serve in the Commission, but some roguish and crooked politicians thwarted that in favour of amateurs like Dauda Musa Bangura, who still do not know why they are in the Commission, and what in fact their roles are. That decision to subvert the wishes of journalists was the gravest contempt to the practice of journalism in Sierra Leone for decades. The clear intention of the government is to have a very weak IMC that they could manipulate to their whims and caprices. And they’ve got their wish!

Looking at the background of some of the people serving in the IMC, including its Chairman, you will know it is very difficult for the Commission to be independent of the shenanigans of the political class. For instance, Dauda Bangura is owner of a newspaper; so he is both a referee and a player. Patricia Ganda, another Commissioner, is also Station Manager of a radio station in Freetown. But that is not all; Duada is also an active politician and even an executive member of the ruling APC youth wing. He coordinates the activities of politicians with blatant disregard for his position as IMC Commissioner. He was spotted last Thursday taking part in a rally with other top governmental officials, as the APC parliamentary candidate for Constituency 107 was being paraded in the central part of the city.

As part of my reform strategy for young journalists in the country, I recruited Bangura into the Sierra Leone Reporters Union but because of his obsession for politics and his love for always being around politicians and taking part in their activities, my executive decided to ask him out of our Union. I must confess that he is a young man that has enormous respect for his colleagues. Notwithstanding that, I think his appointment as Commissioner of the IMC is not only a total embarrassment to journalism but also a serious contempt for the profession.

What bothers me most is the fact that Bangura’s colleagues, including the Commission’s Chairman, are gallingly refusing to reign in on his seeming wayward activities that have always called to question the credibility and integrity of the IMC. His actions, day-in and day-out, are a complete blackmail to the Commission. The earlier they knock some sense into the hyper-exuberant young man, the better for the ailing and beleaguered Commission, which is still battling to earn the respect of a good number of Sierra Leonean journalists, and indeed the majority of members of the public.

During the visit of President Koroma to the U.S. recently to attend the 70th session of UN General Assembly, Bangura was captured on camera dancing in the streets of New York in a pro-Koroma rally. There is nothing wrong in somebody supporting the President, his government or political party, but when you do so in a manner that will call into question the neutrality and credibility of the institution that you represent, then the message you are sending out is that, “it is my political interest that matters”. This is sad for both the young man and the institution he represents. With such blatant public showings, can Bangura be neutral in adjudicating on any matter which his party or the President may have a vested interest in? It is a resounding NO!

The IMC seems to be held hostage by the actions of its “youngest Commissioner”. It is like the Commissioners are being tied to a stake. Condemning the conduct or misconduct of the young Commissioner would mean opposition to the President and his government. So the best way to go is to pretend not to notice their young colleague’s contemptuous behaviours.

A lot of resources have been expended by international partners on the IMC to have it develop to an institution that can help bring sanity in the Sierra Leone media landscape. But what we are seeing of late is the IMC serving the interest of the powers-that-be by waging war against journalists that they should work with to better the practice of journalism in this country. The support being rendered to the Commission by agencies like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and others seems to have come to nothing. And the behaviour of some of its Commissioners is not helping the situation either.

A source within the IMC confided in me that the Chairman is constraint to take any action against the overzealous Commissioner – considered a blue-eye-ball of the President and some senior ministers – especially as he is seeking to retain his position as head of the Commission. Many journalists have openly opined that they have no confidence in this current IMC, thus calling on SLAJ to discontinue their cooperation with the Commission.

Look at the IMC’s decision to ban the Monologue programme before even commencing an investigation into a complaint made against the presenter of the programme by a government minister. I consider such a decision as a deliberate strategy by the Commission to crackdown on a journalist regarded by the authorities as over-critical of the government. Even when the Commission had sat on the matter and fined the journalist, they still could not give him the go ahead to commence broadcast of his programme, notwithstanding the latter having honoured the fine.

Journalists have become endangered species under this current IMC arrangement. Until it frees itself from the shackles of politicians and serve the purpose for which it has been created, journalists and journalism in Sierra Leone will always be under threat. Say no to political dictates and rise to the challenge of building a media that will serve the interest of society and its people.

I rest my case for now!

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