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Sierra Leone
Thursday, May 26, 2022

Unethical Broadcast Journalism

September 26, 2016 By: Winstanley. R. Bankole. Johnson

Initially I thought my ears were deceiving me. So I had to listen to the AYV-TV broadcast footage a few more times to finally conclude that indeed there’s an urgent need to re-introduce “Civic Education” in various communications fora to avoid  serious but inadvertent distortions of our national history. I think I’ve made that point several times before.


The issue relates to a soon to be introduced series on AYV-TV called “Brain Teaser” to be anchored by a charming beauty of a presenter called Hurai Bangura. And their “faux-pas” was to have awarded points to a participant for his response to a “teaser” that the first President of Sierra Leone was Siaka Probyn Stevens.  But I supposed they can be excused, given their relatively tender ages. So I now make it my duty to correctly remind our younger generation that the very first President of Sierra Leone was The Hon. Mr. Justice Christopher Elnathan Okoro Cole. His role was however ceremonial and his remit lasted for under 24 hours, when Siaka Probyn Stevens was elected the very first Executive President of this Sovereign Republic of Sierra Leone.

It has to be acknowledged however, that irrespective of enormous constraints, our various broadcasting houses are rising to previously unimaginable heights and through exposure of our youths to greater corporate responsibilities, are extensively also improving on their technical competencies through regular periodic trainings as have made them the envy of broadcasting franchises in the sub-region and beyond.


Let me now proceed with the issue for this week, which has to do with a practice I consider unethical for professional broadcast journalism.

In advanced environments, and no matter the number of guests being hosted in a particular Radio/TV programme, they are independently and very carefully slotted without us the viewers ever suspecting their public, let alone back stage interactions – if at all. The programmes are further so structured that unless they have a relevance to it, guests do not necessarily have to sit by throughout to listen to other guests speak, or get involved in topical discussions outside their remits. They are released from the studios as soon as their own sessions are over.


The value of that arrangement lies in the need to avoid unnecessary intrusions or interventions by other guests into issues totally unconnected to their calling, but for which they might habour such strong emotions that they cannot keep silent about. That ethical kind of arrangement does not exist in our local Radio/TV Broadcasting outlets. Rather, guests are obliged to sit throughout programmes as the hosts or anchor rotate questions among them on varying topics, sometimes eliciting emotional and very untidy interventions by others with much stronger or alternative views on issues being discussed.  So what we continue to listen to, or witness on our Radio/TV shows on a few occasions is that some panelists, probably moved by sheer self interest or deep feelings of mistrust for the authorities, have had to wade into topics that bear no tangent to them or their organisations, and more with an intention to sow mischief than to provide solutions.


A case in point was a recent SLBC-TV Morning Show which hosted about five girls from the IMATT Secondary School at King Tom, who were rightly aggrieved at being disallowed by the Ministry of Education from attempting their WASSC Examinations, for which their parents and guardians had fully paid up and were receipted for. On that same programme was also being hosted an individual described on the information bar as a “Veteran Civil Society Activist”. He (the latter) was there on a totally unrelated matter, but being moved by his trade mark anti-government sentiments to sow discord rather than proffer solutions, and even without any prompts or solicitation, jumped into the fray and rather unprofessionally advised the already frustrated and traumatized little girls to “go straight to the offices of Ministry of Education at the New England Ville next door to escalate their complaints to the Minister”. That was a case of incitement. Pure and simple!!


I hold no briefs for the Ministry of Education (and never will especially at these precarious times that it is having so much credibility challenges at all levels) but I consider it unkind and very irresponsible for that matter, that anyone claiming (or even pretending) to be a parent could be so heartless as to have further misdirected those little girls away from the SLBC into another quagmire he fully knows they cannot survive without parental guidance. And I believe that that unfortunate and unethical contact could have been avoided if the SLBC-TV (like they do in advanced environments) had inculcated a culture of not allowing guests to either interact and/or delve into issues that do not pertain to their spheres of invitations.

Let’s for argument’s sake assume that any of those little girls were the “Veteran Civil Society Activist’s” own offspring. Would he have misdirected them to the Education Ministry in that same manner?  I think not. Because parents know what is good for their own children. So the Bible asks in Matt.7: 9-10 and Luke. 11:11-12 “What Father ……if his (child) asks him for bread, will give him a stone……Or ….if for a fish will give him a serpent…….Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”


As I have always recognized, Civil Societies have an alienable right to keep any government on its toes through noisy protestations and denunciations to make them accountable to the electorate. But living up to that sacred responsibility also obliges them to be proffering recommendations for alternative dispute resolution methodologies that could assuage tension and ensure sustainable peace and national stability. Inciting minors into further confrontations with the authorities is certainly out with their remits.

And as I ruminate over that untenable and unethical arrangement at the SLBC-TV studios that exposed those innocent IMATT School girls’ minds to such outlandish recommendations for redress from a purported “Veteran Civil Society activist”,  I would respectfully recommend henceforth that our local broadcasting houses now begin to separate their guests so as to avoid inadvertently courting irate, unsolicited and unethical interventions by guests that might have a tendency to sow discord, discourage viewership and rather make us anxious to revert to obituary announcements as the only credible reality shows on our TV screens.

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