By S. U. Thoronka.
Sierra Leone Association of Journalists SLAJ has concluded a two day Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the University of Makeni Auditorium from the 29th – 30th September, 2017 on the theme: “Elections 2018: Media as a catalyst for issue-based Discourse”.
The Chairman of the occasion, Bishop Natalio Paganelli of Kenema Diocese in his opening remarks opined that, being a journalist, is an ambition, adding that the job of the journalist is to improve society. He noted that the power of the journalist cannot be underestimated while citing the United States of America scenario as an example, where President Trump has become very restless as a result of media attention on his administration.
Bishop Natalio Paganelli said the role of the journalists in Sierra Leone is very crucial especially at a time when the country would experience very important general elections in 2018.
He said Sierra Leone is not a poor country as many would perceive “but why has it been listed among the poorest countries in the world”? He asked. He said whenever the gap between the rich and poor gets wider there is the tendency for the poor to revolt or rebel and in his closing courtesies he emphasized on the access to education.
The Chairman of the Independent Media Commission, Ambassador Alieu Kanu in his contribution highlighted some of his achievements since he became Chairman in November, 2014. He informed that the relationship between IMC and SLAJ has been very cordial throughout the years. He said since he took up office to now the number of complaints made against media practitioners has reduced considerably, and that he has instituted strict financial discipline, held several training courses.
Ambassador Alieu Kanu implored all media practitioners to obtain a copy of the Media Code of Practice as a guide. He made reference to specific provisions in the Media Code of Practice and advised journalists to avoid writing or broadcasting hate speeches. He entreated journalists to praise where praise is due and criticize where necessary but cautioned them to do so in an objective manner.
The Chairman National Telecommunication Commission (NATCOM), Momoh Konte congratulated SLAJ for what he referred to as reducing indecent happenings that take place within the media landscape in the country through the collaborative effort of IMC.
He, however, recognized the fact that journalism is guided by rules and regulations and endeavored to read aloud few of them for ease of reference.
He also recognized the fact that there are very good journalists in Sierra Leone, adding that the media is a powerful weapon that is supposed to be used decently, especially when elections are approaching.
Chairman Konte informed that, inasmuch as NATCOM does not have the intention to ban the use of social media, but “we will do our utmost to control its use”. He said they are working in collaboration with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in this regard.
He said NATCOM has already set aside US$150,000 to monitor the elections more especially Facebook and WhatsAAP. He lamented over the way and manner the leaders have been portrayed as criminals, which he said is not good, adding that before this time people from different countries including Ghana used to come to Sierra Leone for almost everything but that the trend has changed. “NATCOM needs the assistance of the media to checkmate corruption where it is deemed to have taken place”.
Chairman Konte disclosed that NATCOM would introduce data information that could pick out individuals suspected of giving negative information to the public from any location in the country and that such suspects would be handed over to the law enforcement agents for further investigation.
He said no serious investor would like to invest in a country where the press has portrayed its own people in a very negative way. Other speakers included the President of SLAJ Kelvin Lewis, Deputy Minister of Information, keynote speaker Mohamed N’fa Alie Conteh (Chief Electoral Commissioner NEC), and a representative of Her Worship Sunkarie Kabba Mayoress of Makeni City.