By Alhaji Haruna Sani
While making his statement at the 3rd Annual Ministry of Information and Communications’ (MIC) Civil Society Organizations and Media Dialogue on November 26 in the Kenema District Council Hall, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ),Ahmed Sahid Nasralla noted that when one supports the media, he or she would be supporting democracy.
“When you support the media, you are supporting democracy and by extension peace and stability which are prerequisites for the functioning of the state and for businesses to operate and thrive. In June next year SLAJ will be here in Kenema for its annual general meeting ahead of the public elections and we hope to officially open the SLAJ East office by the Grace of God,” he said.
Nasralla was speaking on the theme: ‘Consolidating Democracy: Our collective, shared and patriotic responsibility’, he noted that Parliament has just enacted the much publicized Gender and Women Empowerment Act, but that the President has not yet signed it into law.
“Let me start by thanking the Ministry of Inofrmation and communications, especially the dynamic Minister, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, for organising this CSO and media engagement for the third consecutive year. This forum brings the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and its agencies, CSOs and the media to track delivery of manifesto promises and provides an opportunity for the media and CSOs to interrogate activities of critical agencies of the Government of Sierra Leone,” he said.
He said over the last three to four years, SLAJ has been collaborating with the ministry to address the challenges facing the media because government has a sacred responsibility to support the growth of independent and thriving media, to help democracy functions well.
“This collaboration should in no way be misconstrued as SLAJ selling out journalism or the Government buying out journalism. We are not selling, and the GoSL is not buying,” he noted.
He said at no point in the period of that collaboration has anyone in Government called SLAJ to influence work or position on national issues that members of the press feel very strongly about.
President Nasralla said the collaboration was partly fulfilling the collaborative role of the media- to work with relevant agencies of government, and agencies outside of government, to promote the media development and, by extension, the national development agenda.
He encouraged the media to generally continue to perform the radical role of scrutinizing the collaboration, and holding the Government and its agencies to account on a daily basis.
The SLAJ boss said there are many positives that have come out of this collaboration, and I think the foundation upon which we are together building a new media landscape is the historic repeal of the criminal libel law; an obnoxious law that took us more than 50yrs to delete from our law books.
“There is free media here. There is freedom of information here (the recent MCC scorecard puts this at 98%).There is media pluralism here that can probably not be compared to any country in the world. No journalist is in jail in Sierra Leone for what they publish or broadcast or tweet.”
He said the usual visits to the Criminal Investigations Department almost every other week are no more. “We have made the biggest leaps in the World Press Freedom Index two years in row since the repeal of the criminal libel law in 2020. The Government saw the need to support SLAJ with an annual subvention, which was doubled last year”.
Nasralla encouraged Government to take affirmative action to promote community media and the public broadcaster- Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). He urged that local councils should support community media to improve information provision as well as civic engagement around local development policies and initiatives.
He went on to state that Government should introduce new tax incentives and waivers for especially community media- reduce taxation on equipment, and the raw materials used by the print media.
President Nasralla urged Government of Sierra Leone should introduce regulations for fair and transparent allocation of public sector advertisement using criteria such as compliance with NRA, NASSIT, IMC, NATCOM requirements. “So, we can work out a system to ensure advert invoices are honoured 50 percent up-front and the other 50 percent after publication not later than one month”.
He said one of the critical challenges for the coming public elections is information disorder- fake news, disinformation, hate speech, and political propaganda.
Nasralla intimated that SLAJ was putting modalities in place to work with Elections Monitoring Bodies and international partners to promote information integrity during the elections and ensure the citizens have the correct information to be able to make informed decisions.
“Finally, Mr. Vice President, we have talked enough about the media. Let me now convey a message from ordinary Sierra Leoneans: THINGS ARE HARD. It’s really difficult. The standard of living is going higher. We know it’s a global crisis, and we know the Government is doing a lot to cushion the effects through various incentives and subsidies but it is like they are doing nothing. Salaries of the majority of the working class have remained firmly constant while prices of goods and services continue to soar by the day. We need to do more”.