PRESS RELEASE: COVID-19’s devastating impact on news industry revealed in new national survey

PRESS RELEASE

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mamadi Gobeh Kamara (middle) officially launches report on disaster journalism in Sierra Leone

Freetown: 5th May 2021

Covid-19 has had a devastating psychological and financial impact on journalists in Sierra Leone, a new study released today has found.

Impact of Covid-19 on journalism in Sierra Leone was released by Madam Mamadi Gobeh-Kamara, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, at the headquarters of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in Freetown.

The national survey, published by SLAJ and led by researchers at Bournemouth University in the UK, had responses from more than 600 journalists across the country. It reveals that the pandemic affected almost every aspect of news production as well as the individual wellbeing of a majority of journalists.

“This is a serious situation which needs to be addressed through cooperation, collaboration, and networking or partnerships. The Government has a role to play as well as SLAJ and the individual media houses to collectively look at the recommendations and work together to address them because COVID-19 will not be the last disaster to befall us,” said the Deputy Minister.

Among the key findings were:

  • Almost 60% of journalists reporting having experienced depression and almost 70% experiencing increased anxiety
  • 86% of journalists say they have been impacted financially with 16% (around one in six) saying they had lost their jobs
  • Survey respondents reported decreased news production in broadcast, print, and online platforms
  • Most respondents felt they were ill-prepared and ill-trained to face the pandemic.

Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, President of SLAJ, said the survey was the first study to focus specifically on how the pandemic has affected journalists in Sierra Leone, and that it underlined the importance of strengthening disaster preparedness in the news industry.

“A healthy and thriving news sector must be at the heart of any crisis response,” he said. “We must build the disaster resilience of journalists in this country to protect the vital role they play,” said Nasralla.

Dr Chindu Sreedharan of Bournemouth University, the lead author of the survey report, said, “Some of our most worrying findings highlight the extreme psychological impact the pandemic has had on journalists across Sierra Leone.

“With a majority of respondents reporting having suffered from depression and anxiety, the government and news organisations must come together to invest much-needed resources in protecting the emotional and mental health of media personnel in times of crisis.”

The survey forms part of Tie u Orjaa capacity-building initiative led by researchers at Bournemouth University in collaboration with SLAJ, Limkokwing University, and Save the Children (Sierra Leone). It is funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which supports research to address urgent needs and challenges faced by developing countries.

The survey focused on the impact of Covid-19 on the news media, as well as the future training requirements of journalists. The authors highlight the need for urgent action in four key areas: psychological resilience, financial resilience, health protection and resilience, and building future disaster resilience.

Professor Lee Miles, disaster management expert at Bournemouth University and one of the authors of the survey, said, “In view of the critical role the news media play during public health crises and disasters, Bournemouth University, in close cooperation with SLAJ and other partners, will offer further research-informed activities to build the capacity of journalists and crisis communicators. We hope our work will strengthen future disaster resilience in Sierra Leone.”

Hundreds of journalists, from all four provinces and the Western Area, responded to the survey. This included news personnel working in print, online, broadcast, and radio, as well as news agencies. The full report can be accessed at this link-

https://slaj.sl/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Sierra-Leone-National-Survey-Report-English-with-APPENDIX.pdf

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY 2021: SLAJ President calls on Government to never again pass any law that will criminalise free speech

Statement by SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla,
on World Press Freedom Day 2021- 3rd May, 2021

Opening of Book of Reflection on the demise of Criminal and Seditious Libel Law
From (l-r): Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC)- George Khoryama; Minister of Information and Communications- Mohamed Rahman Swarray; Head of Department, Mass Communications, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone- Dr. Williette James; and President of SLAJ- Ahmed Sahid Nasralla

30 years ago a group of journalists, including our own Paul Kamara from Sierra Leone, met in Namibia to adopt the Windhoek Declaration for the development of a free, independent, and pluralistic press.

SLAJ, therefore, joins the rest of the world and UNESCO to celebrate 30yrs of the Windhoek Declaration as it gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we have come from, where we are now and where we want to go with regards to freedom of speech and of the press. It further reminds us of our responsibilities as journalists, and the obligations of governments to guarantee these fundamental rights that are crucial to the development of our democracies.

REPEAL OF CRIMINAL LIBEL LAW
For us in Sierra Leone, and for SLAJ specifically, for the first time in 50 years we are commemorating World Press Freedom Day without having to call on the Government to scrap the infamous Criminal and Seditious Libel Law contained in Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965.

Last year, 2020, our nation took the very bold but necessary action of repealing the 55yr-old law, ushering new dawn for not only journalists and the media, but also for all Sierra Leoneans and even politicians and giving a new meaning to our fledgling democracy.
Freedom of expression is the fundamental human right upon which all other freedoms (association, assembly, and peaceful protest) depend, and so we want to thank His Excellency the President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio, his government, and the Parliament of Sierra Leone for this brave accomplishment.

We also want to recognize the role played by the International Community in Sierra Leone, CSOs, and other stakeholders in that regard.

And to start the celebration of this landmark victory, we are today opening a Book of Reflections on the demise of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, where victims will share their experiences with the anti-free speech legislation.

Later on, in the course of the year, we will premiere a documentary showing our long walk to freedom; and we are also working to install a commemorative structure to Free Speech and Free Media.

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX
With the repeal of the anti-free speech law, it should not surprise you that Sierra Leone moved 10 places up in the latest World Press Freedom Index from 85th to 75th.

While this is very encouraging, we need to continue to do more to not only jealously guard that freedom and civic space that we have achieved, but to do all we can to continue to expand it.

We must particularly note that the repeal-only takes away criminal and seditious libel law; there are still other common laws that remind us to be more responsible and professional in our work as media practitioners. There is, for example, the civil defamation law. And journalists reporting on the courts and parliament should be reminded that there is the law of contempt.

Let me reiterate what I said following the repeal of the criminal libel law that whilst we have been given more freedom to do our work we must know that such freedom goes with immense responsibility. So we must not give any reason to those who were opposed to the repeal to say we told you not to repeal. This is not to say as journalists, we must not investigate and expose corruption in high places, or we must not hold public officials and our government to account. What we are saying is for us to do all of this but in a responsible manner and strictly following the codes that define our profession.

CYBERCRIME BILL 2020
SLAJ has made its position clear on the Cybercrime Bill 2020 that it is not against legislation that seeks to protect and promote responsible use of cyberspace which is becoming increasingly a dangerous threat to our individual and collective security, peace, and stability, but that in its current draft form it is not a good law for our country.

In our position statement, which is on behalf of the entire media fraternity in the country including the IMC, RAIC, and MRCG, and which we have submitted to the Ministry of Information and Communications and the leadership of Parliament, we raised serious concerns relating to provisions and sections in the bill that have the potential to undermine the gains we have made as a country in the area of freedom of expression and of the press, and people’s privacy rights.

SLAJ, therefore, takes this opportunity, in observing World Press Freedom Day, to urge and appeal to our elected representatives in the Parliament of Sierra Leone to scrutinize this bill and take on board our concerns (and those from expert groups) in the same spirit and manner we collectively pursued and achieved the repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965 and the passing of the IMC Act 2020.

SAFETY & SECURITY OF JOURNALISTS
A recent study on the State of Safety of Journalists Policies and
Practices Among Media Houses in Sierra Leone conducted by the MFWA and MRCG with support from the Dutch Foreign Ministry (through the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ghana) show that majority of the media houses studied lacked safety and security, and gender policies. Journalists in the line of duty expose themselves to dangers when covering riots or demonstrations, and the most popular perpetrators of violations against journalists are police officers, military personnel, politicians, civil servants, and community stakeholders/people. So while the criminal libel law is gone, harassment and intimidation of journalists are now taking different forms.

SLAJ is concerned about this and we will discuss these issues, including the recommendations of the study, at our coming AGM to brainstorm on workable approaches to ensure the safety and security of all journalists and to promote gender mainstreaming in the media.

As part of events for our 50th-anniversary celebration, on November 2nd marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, SLAJ will be partnering with the national security sector for a roundtable frank talk to address our differences, understand our roles, respect our responsibilities and how we can work together towards a common national goal.
Having said that, let me hasten to say that SLAJ has also been receiving complaints from people of intimidation and harassment by journalists. We call on those journalists who thrive on intimidation, harassment, blackmail, character assassination, and attack-collect-and defend journalism to desist from such unprofessional and unethical practice. You have no place in our noble profession.

COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS
Community radio stations play a very important role in ensuring information filters down to remote communities, but they face enormous challenges to be on air regularly and for which we have been appealing for the support of the Government of Sierra Leone and the international community.

Nevertheless, these challenges will remain if these community radio stations do not serve the interest of the communities they operate. If you are a community radio station and yet you are serving the interest of a politician or political party other than the concerns of your community, then you are doing a disservice to your people and the nation.

SLAJ, therefore, urges the communities, the Boards, to take ownership of these community radio stations and make them meaningful to their cause.

PROMOTING PROFESSIONALISM
Beyond the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, our focus now is to strengthen professionalism in the media. That is why the theme for our 50th Anniversary is “Towards a free and professional media”. To achieve this, we need the support of every media stakeholder including the IMC, RAIC, MRCG, and international partners and CSOs.

So as part of our moves to bring more professionalism into our practice, SLAJ is pleased to announce that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has approved a project to promote professionalism in the Sierra Leonean media.

In addition, in the last three months, SLAJ had the opportunity to work with crisis communication experts at Bournemouth University in the UK, and we together undertake a rapid response national survey to assess the impact COVID-19 has had on our journalism industry.

The findings of that national survey will be released on the 5th of May 2021, but allow me to share one or two key thoughts that emerged from what our good friends at Bournemouth University have found:

i) Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on every aspect of the news industry in Sierra Leone.

ii) A majority of journalists — more than 80% — were affected financially.

iii) It has also affected the mental wellbeing of a high percentage of journalists and disrupted news publishing significantly — at a time when journalists should be even more vigilant and active.

This situation must change. We know that a healthy, thriving news industry is at the heart of every good crisis response.

Over the next months, SLAJ will work with our friends at Bournemouth University to address this situation, and we call upon the government, NGOs, and other like-minded organisations in joining us in our efforts.

INFORMATION AS PUBLIC GOOD
Meanwhile, the international theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘Information as a public good’. Indeed, information is an essential commodity for the sustenance of our livelihoods and our functioning as democratic states. People need the correct information to be able to make informed decisions about their health, education, security, livelihoods, and in choosing their leaders through periodic elections. When this is possible, the public good- peace and stability are maintained.

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, we want to look at the future role of the media and verified information. In 10 years’ time, the role of the media in providing accurate information, exposing corruption, holding public officials and governments to account, educating and raising awareness, etc. will not change much. What will change is the demand for greater responsibility of the media in combating fake news, hate speech, misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories, all of which have culminated into a raging media virus called infodemic.

Finally, let me urge our government and politicians to make a bold commitment to never again pass any law that will criminalise free speech, and I urge every journalist to aspire to be a true and patriotic professional.

Long Live SLAJ!

Long live Freedom of Expression and of the Press!

Long live the Government and People of Sierra Leone!

Happy World Press Freedom Day!

God bless us all!

SLAJ President Calls for Strategic & Sustained Ties with China

Remarks by SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, at the Symposium organised by the Chinese Embassy, SLAJ, and the Parliament of Sierra Leone.

Topic: Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy and 50 years of China-Sierra Leone Cooperation
Date: 30th April, 2021
Venue: Bintumani Hotel
Time: 9:00am to 11:30am

The high table: from l-r: President of SLAJ Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, Hon Speaker of Parliament Dr. Chernor Abass Bundu, Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone His Excellency Hu Zhangliang, and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hon Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo

Salutations.

I have not been to China yet, but I know how to say ‘Nimen Hao’.

Let me start on a personal note. I fell in love with China in the late 80s and early 90s when I was in secondary school. We used to escape school to watch Chinese movies at Globe Cinema, and on weekends we looked forward to Matinee shows at Strand, Roxy, and Starco cinemas. Remotely, I fell in love with big-screen actors like Jackie Chan, Wong Chong Li (aka ‘Golden Fox’), Jet Li, Dragon Lee, the Shaw Brothers, and more. I also fell in love with China’s dynamic culture and its respect for nature.

We were so fascinated by the art of Kungfu so much that we started training martial arts. And we (proud products of the Freetown Gladiators Karate School) would move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood across Freetown sparring with other trainees. I got so engrossed in the art that I started behaving like a Shaolin Monk; I shaved the hair on my head and that’s how I came to have the nickname ‘De Monk’.

Sadly, with the disappearance of the cinema that aspect of Chinese diplomacy and cultural export has diminished. Or rather it has taken new forms in this digital age. I hope one day I will have the opportunity to visit that great country and be exposed to the laudable things that are happening there.

I have followed the evolution of China, albeit from a distance, but what has struck me most is their deep thinking, the original ideology, and the concentration on what is good for China.
I am looking forward today to learn a few things about the vision of President Xi Jinping, with the hope that somehow I can pick a few lessons which I can use to further help in the transformation of SLAJ into a more productive Association just like China is almost topping the world now.

Mr. Ambassador, just a few years ago China was a third-world country. But even though 60 years ago Sierra Leone was influential enough to recommend China for a seat at the United Nations, today China is amongst the first three nations in the world while Sierra Leone continues to struggle.

In terms of the relationship between China and Sierra Leone, this should be a period of reflection. We need to see how in the next 60 years we can be at par with China.

This is why this symposium is important because we at SLAJ are looking forward to hearing the history, and learning about the strategy that China has used.

So SLAJ is very pleased and honoured to partner with the Chinese Embassy and the Parliament of Sierra Leone to organize this symposium on ‘President Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy and 50 Years of China-Sierra Leone Cooperation’.

As China and Sierra Leone celebrate 50 years of friendship this year 2021, SLAJ is also celebrating 50 years of existence as a professional umbrella body for the media in Sierra Leone dedicated to promoting and protecting free speech and freedom of the media. And this event is part of our Golden Jubilee activities.
On behalf of the national and regional Executives, and the entire membership of SLAJ, let me take this opportunity to congratulate the China-Sierra Leone Cooperation.

We are inspired that since 1971 the Sino-Sierra Leone friendship has grown from strength to strength and it has been one of mutual understanding, respect, and benefit. China’s bilateral support to Sierra Leone can be seen in the many infrastructural landmarks across the country; from roads to public office buildings, health, agriculture, and mining sectors.

Similarly, SLAJ and the media generally have enjoyed a very good relationship with the Embassy of China, and this symposium is an indication of how this relationship is growing.

Many journalists have benefitted (and continue to benefit) from study scholarships to China, short-term courses, and visitations.
SLAJ and its affiliate bodies have also received logistical support from the Chinese Embassy in the form of office and media equipment.

About 10 journalists have been supported to do Masters and PhD programs in China. Over 40 journalists have been supported to do short courses; 4 journalists have been given the opportunity to train with Chinese media for one year including the young man who is now our Assistant Secretary-General.

Nevertheless, what we have observed is that most of the training opportunities given to our journalists (apart from the Masters and PhD programs) focus mainly on Chinese development. Beneficiaries are usually taken on a conducted tour of China’s imposing infrastructural cityscape, and moreover, the same journalists continue to enjoy this privilege. We need to review such a program to ensure journalists acquire the right skills and knowledge to enhance their professionalism when they return home. SLAJ and the Embassy might also consider doing a survey to assess the impact of such training on the media in Sierra Leone.

Furthermore, the Chinese Embassy has also supported SLAJ in several projects, our AGMs and other related matters, and former Amb. Kuang Weilin a few years ago was at SLAJ HQ to deliver a talk on the China-Sierra Leone relationship.

So as we celebrate 50 years, we look forward to a more strategic and sustained relationship at the institutional level of China’s support. We encouraged the Embassy to deal directly with SLAJ when it comes to training and scholarship opportunities for media practitioners. We also look forward to the intervention of the Embassy in our effort to construct a befitting SLAJ headquarters in the capital city.

SLAJ believes that any bilateral tie between China and Sierra Leone must have a component for media development. More than ever before our country needs independent and professional media to hold this nation together.

With these few words let me thank the Ambassador for this event and hope that this is just the beginning of a long, sustained, and mutually beneficial relationship between the Chinese Embassy and SLAJ.

I thank you.