Statement on World Press Freedom Day
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
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 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.
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
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
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
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!