THE INDEPENDENT PRESS IN
SIERRA LEONE - HOW SO?
now become fashionable to hear many a journalist in Sierra Leone to
describe him/herself as independent and sticking the term to whatever
news source, mainly newspapers, they could be attached to.
word, attached, is used with the same meaning as one would relate to a
kind of loose relationship where professional relationships only exist
in scenarios of stories delivered and/or used. It does not include a
paid and consistent arrangement that would see an organised set up that
is worthy of the name. No, it is not the sort of
freelance-newspaper/publication relationship that should characterise
that level of the profession. Indeed it is so loose that the only "hold"
an "editor" would have over a reporter would be the ID card and there
are stories of editors threatening to withdraw such cards should there
arise a misunderstanding over "delivery".
understand the inner workings of the press/journalism world in Sierra
Leone one needs to delve into the recent affinity among practitioners,
of the word "independent". If we are to rely on the definition of the
word as stated in the "New Choice English Dictionary" apt enough for
those whose mother tongue is not English, then woe upon woe, few
journalists in Sierra Leone would qualify.
definition goes like this:
independent adj freedom from the influence or control of others;
self-governing; self-determined; not adhering to any political party;
not connected with others; not depending on another for financial
support. *n a person who is independent in thinking, action etc.
- independently adv
appreciate why these meanings could not be found in some practitioners,
one has to take a stroll through memory lane where the government media,
tightly controlled would want all its employees to toe the official
government line in their work. A number of these practitioners engaged
in the service of the largest employer, the government sometimes fell
out with their bosses and if not sacked/and or detained as
investigations continue, would sneak out of the country to safer plains.
There were others who, though in the employ of the government used
various pen names to criticise government policies in overseas media
outlets and this provided a kind of safety valve to ease the stress of
working in an environment that stifled the freedom of expression. Thus
it should not come as a surprise that it was these same people tied down
by mandarin-like ropes who formed the core of an association for
journalists in 1971 named the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists,
SLAJ. (Please note that the Editor was a founder member).
developed over the years is a thinking within non-government sectors of
the profession that if one is employed by the government, no matter how
well-trained one may be, one is not independent and that all others
operating outside the clutches of government-controlled media are the
truly independent. This concept also grew out of a kind of "jealousy"
between those independents, all in the newspaper industry and those in
the government media that comprised TV, Radio, Film and Video Units, the
Photographic Section and the Government Information office whose duty it
was to propagate the policies of the government using all the
instruments at hand. Information attaches were sent to various
diplomatic missions and it was a joy for families to have a member
jealousy arose out of a feeling that those in the employ of the
government were exposed to all kinds of training, arranged both locally
and abroad and hence career advancement. But there were tried, tested
and trusted journalists who would never exchange their "freedoms" in the
newspaper with the "tight gentry" of those in the government service.
previous definition of "independent", if it is to be applied to a number
of those claiming to be so would find a good percentage wanting as they
easily fall into the trap of political affiliation or characteristics
that suggest a dependence on out of house financial packets.
Otherwise, how does one explain the practice of some independent editors
whose publications are always timed to coincide with national
celebrations and anniversaries, while keeping out of circulation for the
rest of the year?
does one comprehend the practice of some of these independent editors
carrying adverts in their publications without prior authorisation from
the business houses?
more bizarre is the method employed by some "independent" editors of
taking the unpublished materials to the doors of business houses or
potential victims/business rivals soliciting, threatening and sometimes
just plain blackmailing victims? That kind of independence is pretty
hard to comprehend.
It is no
secret that the word "independent" has become so self-serving, that it
would take some time to restore a modicum of respectability in a
once-noble venture that has been turned on its head. Thus one hears of
those working on newspapers that are clearly politically-affiliated
daring to call themselves independent when in reality they are as loaded
in favour of one party as is to be found in a political manifesto.
in Sierra Leone it is hard to find cub reporters and reporters. Sub
editors belong to another age it seems as straight from whatever
institution, they all become Managing Editors and Editors-in-Chief at
the drop of a hat.
the profession flourish.
THE EDITOR ADDS IN 2008: KINDLY READ THIS
PIECE FROM ONE "INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST" CALLING HIMSELF THE STATE HOUSE
PRESS SECRETARY AND EXAMINE WHAT THE ABOVE PIECE STATED.