The Sierra Leone Telegraph
Home Archives Links to Sierra Leone News

Journalism in Sierra Leone called to order

Austin Thomas

24 September 2011

Once upon a time in Sierra Leone, journalism was a craft and a profession simultaneously. Through time, generations have changed the idea of what journalistic integrity is. The old timers remember and know that the news is about informing the people of what is going on in the community, government and the world.

Our generation today has turned it more into a race for survival, as we all want to drive cars, load our pockets and get plenty of women – all at the expense of our journalistic principles and values.

  Because we now have a president who constantly give hand outs in return for support, some of us have turned away from the truth and joined the fray to be part of that cabal, selling our hard earned integrity for survival.

As old as any profession, Journalism has been of tangible benefit to the development and sustenance of successive governments. Best described as the Gate-keeping profession, this noble art of creating effective and well-represented dialogue platform between several vertically arranged parties, mostly between the governed and the governor.

Gate keepers, also referred to as the Fourth Estate of the Realm of governance, with the mandate of a para-political actor is required to set the agenda for development as well as direct national debate. It must be people and society-centred, whilst ensuring that officials are made to account.

Today, the survival of journalists in Sierra Leone depends on how many positive articles we write about president Koroma and how many fights we can participate in - on his behalf.

Even though some of us are aware of the truth and the difficult economic situation we find ourselves in the country, we do not care because of our perceived need to survive. Most of us have put our integrity on the line because of our life-style choices.

But all the same, our media has a sacred responsibility to represent the views and many voices of our people, as well as to hold office-bearers accountable for the country's limited resources.

As journalists, we should be able to tell the leaders the truth: that people are dying of hunger, frustration and poor health. And the only way we can achieve this is not by mortgaging our integrity, but by upholding the truth and nothing but the truth.

Since independence and more recently, some of our journalists have, under constrained circumstances performed this natural duty to serve humanity to the best of their ability. They have continued to demand accountability and attract attention to daily societal challenges, which are sometimes ignored for obvious reasons.

The Media landscape over the past decades has seen little improvement especially in the areas of Criminal Libel and Freedom of Information, amid poor conditions of service for journalists.

Despite the setting up of a professional association for journalists – the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), working conditions for this vital agent of democratic governance has seen little or no improvement over the years.

Umaru Fofanah

  I commend the current re-elected president of SLAJ - Umaru Fofanah, who has assiduously tried to bring sanity to the profession, by taking the fight to the editors, government officials as well as the opposition, demanding respect and trust.

Contemporary critics of journalists in the country, continue to openly attack the profession for what is obviously known to them as low standard of practice among media professionals.

They are calling for better trained, more public oriented and selfless journalists that will ensure government accountability.

The expectation is that journalists will emulate veterans such as Christo Johnson, Rod Mac, the late Olu Gordon, Kelvin Lewis, Umaru Fofanah, Lans Fofanah, and many others. These veteran journalists have not only scaled so many different hurdles, but have not traded their integrity in order to survive.

In response to the call for better trained journalists, several media organizations have over the years organized a series of capacity building workshops for journalists. Yet the result is like digging a well in winter, very difficult indeed, as some of us would rather continue benefitting from President Koroma’s hand outs.

When Umaru Fofanah took over SLAJ, conditions of service for Journalists were shocking and in a sorry state. He tried his best for proprietors and editors to change and improve working conditions for journalists, but majority are still reluctant to do so.

This lack of interest shown by those running the industry, has given much cause for concern. But why the reluctance to change when the issue is about us?

Is it that we are ashamed about our peculiarly bad situation, or do not regard change as an important issue worthy of discussing on the airwaves? The answers to these questions are obvious.

A critical and honest examination of this situation reveals that not all Journalists are working under such unacceptable conditions and as such not all are interested in pursuing change.

It is further important to state that for most editors, the discussion of this issue is not necessary at all, as they are on the 'Payroll' of political and interest groups across the country.

Because of this kind of situation, some of us have no alternative but to barter our integrity for survival. We report stories that will benefit us financially, at the expense of the truth. We support unworthy causes and act as PRO for political leaders.

Sadly, this is the state of most parts of the media in Sierra Leone today.

Those who are supposed to be role models have sold their conscience for material benefits, leaving the young practitioners on the crossroad of judging between Integrity and survival, a test which many have failed.

Other professions, such as medical practitioners, lawyers, and accountants not only have Code of ethics, but agreed conditions of service for their members. Sierra Leone’s Journalists are deprived of these basic requirements.

I want to congratulate all media persons in the country, especially the young ones that have, for so long, suffered in silence and yet they persist and continue to do good work. But let us resist the temptation of cash that is now flowing from State House.

The 'brown envelope' will come to an end someday, but if we can keep our integrity, we will go a long way in achieving the tenets of the profession. Some of the veterans I mentioned earlier are still enjoying a good life today, because they have not traded their integrity for survival. And above all, change of government has nothing to do with them, because a good name (integrity) is better than a quick penny (survival).

Back to main list of articles

Email the Editor The Sierra Leone Telegraph

©2009 – The Sierra Leone Telegraph – All Rights Reserved.