When SLAJ or IMC should lock the stable gates

PUAWUI- DR SAMA BANYA: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 May 2019:

“My Lords, Ladies and gentlemen! And members of the fourth estate”. This statement is attributed to Edmund Burke who used it in 1787 in the House of Commons (Parliament) of Great Britain. Burke said that there were three estates of the realm, but looking up he continued “but in the press galleries yonder, there sat a fourth estate more important than they all.”

Another version has it that Queens and Kings used the term earlier with regard to the Commons, the Lords Spiritual, (Bishops and clergy) Lords Temporal, (judges and the nobility) and then looking up the press galleries, oh and members of the fourth estate.

The importance of a buoyant press, especially in a democracy cannot be overemphasised. The purpose of the press is to inform, educate – yes, and criticise. They act as the watch dog, but sometimes they cross the red line and peer unfairly into people’s privacy.

In developing countries in particular and with our own country Sierra Leone in mind, they often fabricate as well. Although every effort is made not to interfere into the workings of a free press, at the same time the press is expected to indulge in a self-regulatory role.

This hasn’t generally worked especially in Sierra Leone, hence we have the Independent Media Commission (IMC) whose role is to register and regulate the functions of the press.

It generally takes six years and at great expense to train a medical doctor. In the immediate post Sierra Leone independence years, some friendly countries voluntarily accepted a large number of our students in their higher educational institutions including medical schools.

But sometimes there were problems; some of those countries turned out our doctors in the space of three to four years. The government was then obliged to open a clinical school in Connaught hospital to, as it were, reinforce their basic training.

Mercifully that period is behind us because we can now boost of a Medical school – College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS), which has over the years earned a high international reputation.

We also have a regulatory body – the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Council (SLMDC), which is responsible for the registration of doctors and dentist, as well as regulating their practice in order to safeguard the welfare and safety of a trusting and unsuspecting public.

The Rotary club has a number of cardinal rules for its members. They include, “Is it the truth, is it fair to all and will it promote unify?”

Sometime last month a series of articles appeared in a local newspaper – alleging, with no justification, that a certain doctor of long standing had deliberately administered medication to an eighteen-month-old child which killed the baby.

The newspaper went into what I thought was a most unprofessional and unethical manner to deliberately tarnish the reputation of the poor doctor concerned.

My son who is not a medical doctor and I were so stunned by the unprofessional handling of the story by the newspaper concerned, that we asked the editor whether he knew of any qualified medical doctor who would treat a patient without taking a proper history or examination.

We also asked which trained doctor would give a cough mixture to an eighteen-month-old baby because the parents wanted it that way. The newspaper was ascribing improper motive to the doctor’s action in demanding that the child be taken to his hospital for proper examination, diagnosis and treatment.

We further asked the editor weather he had asked the doctor for his side of the story to which he replied, I plan to do so later, that is after totally destroying the poor man’s reputation and exposing him to scorn.

According to the newspaper, no post-mortem or autopsy was carried out on the child. Nor was a complaint made to the police or the SLMDC, nor even to the leadership of the Lebanese community. Rather the dead child was taken to Lebanon where the only procedure obtaining a sample of fluid from the child for examination.

The editor would have continued his story of defamation if some people including President Bio’s Ambassador at large Umaru Wurie, together with Mr. Fersal Basma and Hashim Hashim had not further intervened and settled the matter.

My concern here is why neither SLAJ nor the IMC also had intervened; could the latter have been waiting for a formal complaint from the parents of the deceased child?

I read somewhere recently that the IMC is overwhelmed with complaints against certain sections of the press; but is that enough reason to stay quiet on such an important issue?

Some few years ago, a leading newspaper published a nude figure of a woman with the head of the publisher of Awareness Times – Sylvia Blyden, super imposed on it and looking lecherously at the naked body of rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

Although I have always professionally described Sylvia as a villain and a menace to society it has to be admitted that even a prostitute is entitled to protection from rape. When I made a formal complaint to the former IMC that this was a criminal act, its complaint committee came out with the disarming answer that because the editor concerned had never been found guilty before a court of law, therefore the editor’s action did not amount to a criminal offence.

As it turned out later, the chairman of the committee was also the chairman of the editor’s radio station. Wasn’t there such a word like ‘RECUSE’ in his vocabulary I wondered.

SLAJ too should have cautioned their colleague without fear of being accused of interference – but how could they have.

In 2006 the then president Tejan Kabbah sent me as a Special Envoy to the Libyan leader Colonel Ghadaffy for technical assistance. Accompanied by our ambassador to Tripoli Alhajie Mohamed Samura, I made a presentation to the Libyan leader.

Shortly after, a consignment of Libyan buses, garbage trucks and water bouncers arrived as gifts from that country. President Kabbah invited the press and the general public to view the gifts at Cockerill barracks. The president of SLAJ at the time was there along with all major newspaper editors and radio networks.

When the Libyan donation of rice arrived, the government decided to sell it at affordable price and proceeds used as “seed money” with which to establish National Social Security Trust (NASSIT).

Although President Kabbah had previously expressed gratitude on behalf of the country to the Libyan President when the latter appeared at the national stadium during his state visit, President Kabbah repeated his thanks and appreciation on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone.

On the following day a national newspaper carried a blazing headline that it was only on Colonel Ghadaffy’s visit that the people of Sierra Leone were made aware of his donation – especially of rice to the country.

Not a single newspaper editor came forward to say “No, it was not so and that those gifts had been reported and that we were all there.

Is the Press’s behaviour a case of – as my Susu family would say – “balaga siga balaga faa?”, or “scratch me back ar scratch you back?”

But that is how our system works. Yes, it is all too easy to criticise when the speck is in someone else’s eye.

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