''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol XI No 7

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Statement on World Press Freedom Day 2015

Date: 4th May 2015

Fellow journalists. Yesterday 3rd May was celebrated as World Press Freedom Day. For us in Sierra Leone the period May 2014 to May 2015 was fraught with challenges.

Ebola struck and among the over three thousand five hundred Sierra Leoneans killed, were two journalists Mohamed Sheriff of Eastern Radio and Hassan Conteh of Radio Maria Makeni who had perished in the line of duty. Please join me in praying for their souls to have a peaceful rest.

The theme for this year is “Let journalism thrive! Towards better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age. As Journalist Peter Greste notes “Journalism thrives when reporters are able to work without draconian constraint.”

We must admit that the democratic conditions under which we practice presently in Sierra Leone are fastly deteriorating. We recall that even though a State of Emergency was imposed to deal with the Ebola outbreak yet the exceptional powers granted the President under that regulation was first used to jail journalist David Tam Baryoh. Clearly journalism cannot thrive under such draconian constraints.

As devastating as the Ebola outbreak is some good things however emerged out of it. For once all media practitioners became unified, putting aside political and commercial interests to fight the common enemy - Ebola.

Ebola also provided us with the opportunity to experiment with a mentoring program which saw a senior journalist travelling with young inexperienced reporters, to regions which were declaring 42 days Ebola free, and helping them to report objectively. More however needs to be done to work towards better reporting in the profession.

Let me salute women in the media for the strides they are making. An increasing number of women now head radio stations and even now a newspaper. While this cannot account for even 10% of the media landscape, I would encourage more women to come forward and help reduce the gender gap in the media landscape.

It is clear that the advent of new media characterized by Facebook, whatsapp and twitter has posed new challenges for the practice of journalists. Ordinary people have now become citizen journalists and as such maintaining the ethics is posing new challenges along with the threats to the security of journalists and the protection of their sources.

Already one such citizen has been jailed for a whatsapp post critical of the President. This shows the decreasing democratic space highlighted earlier and the risk of labelling all such citizens as journalist when they are not media practitioners.

Even though a worrying sign yet new or social media now seeks to break the traditional boundaries of censorship imposed through draconian press laws by governments. It brings a breath of fresh air to the democratization process.

It also brings its own threats like security agencies monitoring the phone conversations of journalists, phishing, Denial of Service (DoS), fake domain attacks and man-in-the-middle attacks. It is clear journalists have to be protected.

However as we look forward to the coming days and weeks let me reiterate SLAJ’s call for the State of Emergency to be removed. Our democratic credentials are being badly damaged by the selective implementation of the regulations. The fundamental human rights of citizens to free expression, especially the right to hold a different opinion and demonstrate is being denied. This threatens peaceful coexistence and democratic inclusion.

In light of the prevailing circumstances, I call on all journalists to be responsible in their general conduct and professional in their reporting.

Let me end by quoting Aidan White – “Journalism is the conscience of democracy, it will survive and prosper, as long as it remains independent and sticks to its ethical base.”

Long Live SLAJ! Long Live Sierra Leone! May God Bless us All!

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The right choice is Kevin McPhilips Travel

©Sierra Herald 2002