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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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