Amin Kef Sesay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 June 2020:
Last Friday, 5th June 2020, the umbrella body that has the mandate to champion the interests of journalists in Sierra Leone – the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), celebrated its 49th anniversary. In his address to members of SLAJ, the erudite President of the Association, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, congratulated members, more especially the surviving founding members, namely – Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo (MP), Mrs. Bernadette Cole, Mr. Christo Johnson and others.
He congratulated senior colleagues in the Veteran Journalists Union (VEJU), whom, he said, have blazed the trail before the current crop of journalists. The SLAJ boss remembered departed colleagues, especially those who left recently – Chernor Ojuku Sesay, Rod Mac Johnson and others.
He noted that because of the COVID-19, SLAJ held its first virtual general meeting on 17th May, 2020 where it was agreed to postpone the Annual General Meeting (AGM) 2020 until such a time when the COVID-19 restrictions, especially the ban on public gatherings, will be lifted.
Nasralla maintained that as we celebrate SLAJ’s birthday in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, members must be proud of the Association’s history and the strides made to ensure we protect and promote freedom of expression and of the Press, and the public’s right to information that is helping them make informed decisions in their daily lives.
He said with SLAJ’s current standing and profile the future can only be brighter, as he implored all to work towards having one united SLAJ. “We must take SLAJ very seriously and contribute to its development at all times,” he enjoined.
The SLAJ President revealed that even before the country recorded its index COVID-19 case, they had formed the SLAJ Coronavirus Response Committee (SLAJ-CRC) to coordinate the Association’s response to the fight against the virus. He said that the SLAJ-CRC immediately went to work by producing public sensitization jingle and video on the preventive measures against COVID-19 which are being broadcast by the media.
“This was followed by national simulcast programs on radio and TV, especially during the lockdowns instituted by the Government,” adding that this was achieved without any outside support. He said the SLAJ-CRC continues to interface with the Ministry of Information and Communications, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the NACOVERC to support the Government of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 national response program.
The pragmatic SLAJ President stated that on Sunday, 19th April, 2020, they also officially launched the ‘Wear A Mask’ campaign to support the Government of Sierra Leone in encouraging everybody in the country to wear a face mask when going out in public. SLAJ he said is now delivering training for journalists on COVID-19 reporting.
Speaking about Press Freedom he said because of the COVID-19 SLAJ could not celebrate this year’s World Press Freedom day as usual, but they were able to mark the day with a virtual seminar on the topic: ‘The Media and the COVID-19 Pandemic’. He expressed hope that media practitioners are coping with the challenge of ‘infodemic’- fake news and misinformation and disinformation.
Turning to the Criminal Libel issue, he said despite the recent withdrawal of the repeal Bill from Parliamentary proceedings, media practitioners continue to be hopeful for the law to be expunged by the country’s Honourable Members of Parliament. He said that to strengthen advocacy and engagement, SLAJ is in the process of forming a SLAJ Criminal Libel Repeal Lobbying Group to engage with key members of parliament in the Legislature to get their buy in.
“This group will consist mainly of members who have access to the corridors of power, so they also will use their influence to build support for the repeal,” he expressed optimism but admonished journalists to practice strictly by the rules.
He talked about how they have reconstituted and strengthened the SLAJ Disciplinary Committee as one of the self-regulation mechanisms which he said is headed by one of the founding members and doyen of journalism, Mrs. Bernadette Cole.
Speaking about the Mediation Committee on the WIMSAL impasse, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said, SLAJ is in the process of finding a pathway to heal the division in WIMSAL. He humbly appealed to all WIMSAL members to choose peace and sisterhood over hate and unforgiveness.
He further disclosed that SLAJ and the Mass Communications Department at FBC, USL have decided to launch the Virtual Seminar Series as a platform to discuss key issues relating to the development of the media. He said three presentations have been made so far and the seminar series are also open to members and the general public.
With regards government’s promise to provide a piece of land for SLAJ HQ to be built, he noted that in his most recent address to the Sierra Leone Parliament, H. E. President Julius Maada Bio reiterated his commitment to provide land and help build an ultra-modern headquarters for SLAJ. (Photo: Ahmed Sahid Nasralla and President Bio).
He spoke about how the Ministry of Lands and Country Planning took them around Freetown to identify a plot for the proposed SLAJ Headquarters, but they are yet to locate a suitable area.
On Finance, he said, SLAJ is financially constrained, highlighting that they have not been able to raise money to pay for the auditing of the Association’s books for this year – (Baker Tilly).
“We are also in arrears for the day to day financial management services provided by FNL (Freetown Nominees). There’s also the rent for the SLAJ HQ at Campbell Street coming up. We pay Staff salaries, their NASSIT and NRA every month. We have requested for the Government Subvention for 2019/2020 and we hope to receive that in due course. Part of this money will go towards paying rent for the SLAJ HQ and independent regional offices. We are expecting revenue for ongoing SLAJ-CRC corona programs. However, this money will just pass through our accounts and go to the media houses. SLAJ needs to think about ways of generating revenue,” he proposed.
The President stated that the SLAJ Executive has received a donation of six laptops from the US Embassy which will be used for the resuscitation of the Association’s resource center with reliable internet facility.
He urged media owners to adopt gender policies in their respective media houses and invest in gender sensitive reporting to advance the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone.
He concluded by assuring that SLAJ will work towards reviewing the governance and operational structures of the Association’s affiliate bodies and make them more efficient and effective.