The media’s role in Sierra Leone’s governance and development

12 February 2013

Election in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone’s Information Attaché to the People’s Republic of China, John Baimba Sesay has told a gathering of academics studying in the People’s Republic of China, that a vibrant democracy requires an independent and pluralistic media.

He said that the very growth of democracy very much depends on the dissemination of reliable and credible information.

Speaking today, Tuesday, 12th February, at the closing of the 2012/2013 Annual Convention of the Sierra Leone Students Union in China (SLSUC), John Baimba Sesay said that good governance could be hampered by corruption, which may disrupt the free flow of information.

This he said could have the highest potential of undermining accountability and in the process discourages greater participation in the decision-making process.

“But if such challenges are to be addressed, the media should be seen playing a critical role in exposing societal problems and challenges in governance, such as tackling corruption.”

Sierra Leone, he said, today enjoys a realistic media friendly environment.

He said that there is no government monopoly of any kind, coupled with the existence of dozens of newspapers and broadcasting stations, which are today reflecting the widest possible range of opinions across the country.

According to Mr. Sesay, given the crucial role that can be played by the media in the sustenance of the nation’s democratic credentials, there is a need for both state actors and media practitioners to work in partnership.

“Both depend on each other. But again, citizens expect accurate and reliable news.”

Also, highlighting the challenges of credibility gap in terms of media practice and media professionalism, he said that this can be tackled by ensuring decency and the widest level of media transparency.

“Given the relevance of the media in national development and the promotion of good governance, there is every need for media practitioners, too, to face every aspect of public scrutiny as a way of ensuring public trust and confidence.”

There has always been a radical approach taken by the media practitioners toward issues of governance, such as exposing corruption. This he said, is germane to democratic freedoms.

Speaking about Sierra Leone’s governance indicators, Sesay said that the country is implementing an effective means of widening community participation, in the running of the affairs of state.

“What we see today in Sierra Leone is a situation where decision-making is not only limited to central government. Our people at the community level now feel a part of the day to day running of the state, through the decentralization process.”

He described the following as the pillars of good governance: participatory approach to governance, consensus, accountability, transparency, government’s responsiveness, policy effectiveness and efficiency, equity and inclusiveness.

“Sierra Leone’s governance indicators are encouraging and thriving as it is also in terms of media freedom and media pluralism, with dozens of media outlets in the country.

“The institutional frameworks that we have worked towards establishing over the years are all in place and making impact as we see in the ACC, NRA, and the IMC amongst others.

“Without a vibrant and independent press, a nation’s democracy cannot survive, especially in terms of tackling corruption, effectively promoting a proper justice system and in ensuring effective multiparty democracy.”

On media development in Sierra Leone, Sesay said that there have been strong campaigns for the repeal of the Public Order Act , especially by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and the Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI).

He said there is the strong commitment on the part of government to not just always create a free and an enabling environment for media practitioners, but towards the enactment of a Freedom Of Information law.

“From the Regulatory framework we see today, the IMC is also critically contributing to our democracy, as we could see in the number of newspapers and radio stations across the country; and people now opting to utilize the IMC in settling dispute with journalists.”

Mr. Sesay also said, the media landscape was at its most volatile, during the war in Sierra Leone. “The return of Sierra Leone to multiparty democracy in 1996 started well for the media. But there were challenges, such as the jailing of journalists and even an attack on a media practitioner, which subsequently led to his death.”

He said that scenario in Sierra Leone is different today, “because in the last couple of years, no journalist has been jailed by the government and besides, there is now the greatest form of media pluralism in the country.”

According to Sesay, because of this media friendly environment, “development journalism is making tremendous impact in the country…this is a powerful tool for local empowerment and community participation in national development.”



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