Date: Monday 5th June 2023 | Venue: New Brookfields Hotel, Freetown | 10:00AM
Let me start by asking you all to kindly join me wish our darling SLAJ a happy 52nd birthday today June 5th 2023.
And as we do that, please also join me observe a minute of silence in memory of Mrs Bernadette Cole, the last of our foundation members of SLAJ.
May her gentle soul rest in peace.
On behalf of our Advisory Council, our Regional and National Executives, our Affiliate and Sub-bodies, let me warmly welcome you to this special birthday celebration: the official launch of the SLAJ Media Manifesto 2023: The Media We Want, a manifesto for an empowered and inclusive media in Sierra Leone.
Thank you all for making time to come and join us celebrate this huge milestone in media advancement in our country.
The fortunes of the media in Sierra Leone actually started with the historic repeal in 2020 of the 55-year-old criminal and seditious libel law in Part 5 of the Public Order Act, 1965 that hindered media freedom in the country for half a century.
And then everything began to fall in place towards a strengthened media:
- Sierra Leone subsequently made significant progress in press freedom rankings in the world.
- In 2020 also, a new IMC Act was passed which has strengthened the Commission’s regulatory powers and provisions to address the perennial problem of conditions of service of journalists.
- The Government of Sierra Leone has been giving annual subvention to SLAJ since.
- In 2022, the government, media stakeholders and partners hosted the first Media Viability and Investment Conference in April. The conference was to promote and call for a viable media ecosystem that works in the public interest with the essential tools to advance democracy, prosperity and stability. Seven key recommendations came out of that historic conference which are woven into this manifesto.
- A national fund for public interest media has been established with support from the International Fund for Public Interest Media and the Government of Sierra Leone.
- In 2022, The National Communications Authority Bill, 2022 was enacted; it contains provisions on the allocation of frequency spectrum to radio and television stations.
- In 2023, the Right to Access Information Regulations, 2022; the Independent Media Commission (Print and Electronic Media) Regulations, 2022 and the Independent Media Commission Elections (Coverage and Reporting) Regulations 2022 were passed into law. The Regulations are to ensure right to access information and outline various codes guiding the coverage and reportage by media institutions.
All of this would not have been possible without strategic engagement with the Government of Sierra Leone and partnership with the international community and a broad-based coalition with CSOs, higher educational institutions, and local and international media stakeholders.
Despite all of these significant strides, we know that there is a lot more work to be done to realise the actual impact on the media landscape in Sierra Leone. We want to see these gains reflect in the viability or prosperity of the media; in quality output from the media; and in the welfare of journalists in Sierra Leone.
In essence, this is the goal of this media manifesto. The critical aspects of this manifesto are: freedom and independence; empowerment and inclusivity.
Free speech and media freedom and independence are crucial to good governance, democracy and citizens’ participation in the democratic process. Free speech is a fundamental human right that enables individuals to express themselves without fear of retaliation or censorship.
Media freedom and independence are crucial for ensuring that the public have access to accurate and diverse information, which is essential for a functioning democracy.
Without free speech and media freedom, individuals and groups can be silenced, marginalized, or oppressed, which can lead to a lack of accountability and a breakdown in trust between citizens and government.
Media independence ensures that journalists are not beholden to any particular political or economic interests and can report objectively on important issues.
An independent media serves as a watchdog, holding those in power accountable and exposing corruption or abuses of power.
Media freedom and independence can also promote cultural and linguistic diversity, allowing for a wide range of perspectives to be represented in public discourse.
The ability to express oneself freely and access diverse sources of information is crucial for personal growth and development, as well as for the advancement of knowledge and innovation.
While free speech and media freedom can sometimes be abused or used to spread harmful misinformation, the benefits of these freedoms far outweigh the risks. As such, it is important to protect and defend these rights to ensure a thriving and equitable society.
Empowerment and Inclusivity
Empowered and inclusive media provide a platform for diverse voices to be heard and represented in public discourse.
Empowered and inclusive media promote social justice by challenging power structures and amplifying marginalized voices.
Empowered and inclusive media have the potential to increase empathy and understanding among different groups, which is important for building cohesive societies.
Empowering media involves providing resources and support to media outlets that prioritize diverse representation and challenging power structures.
An empowered and inclusive media landscape can lead to more dynamic, engaging, and compelling media content, as well as more engaged and loyal audiences.
Media inclusivity means that every individual and group should have a fair and equal opportunity to participate in media production and consumption, regardless of their background.
Media empowerment and inclusivity encompasses a lot. It is about offering platforms to diversity of opinions, including non-mainstream perspectives, cultural and regional differences, bringing the provinces into national discussions and decision making, etc.
It is about building a resilient journalistic system that can address gender imbalance and women and girls’ rights, and adequately respond to national emergencies like natural disasters by working together with established institutions.
Empowered media is media that is free, and independent. To reach there a lot of work has to be done, both from media as well as government and partners. Regulations need to be changed, freedom needs to be enshrined, and measures need to be taken to ensure the safety of journalists in the line of duty. The MoU we have with the national security sector is a good framework to help us ensure that.
Media empowerment and inclusivity should be an ongoing process, requiring constant reflection and improvement.
So the launch of this manifesto demonstrates that SLAJ is not just being politically correct but we are actually thinking outside the usual boxes as we envisioned the media we want.
At its best, media can serve as a powerful tool for empowering marginalized voices, breaking down barriers, and fostering greater understanding and empathy. To achieve this, we must work to create a media landscape that is truly inclusive and diverse, one that reflects the full spectrum of human experience and resists the urge to perpetuate harmful stereotypes or amplify only the voices of the powerful. By embracing inclusivity and empowering marginalized communities, we can create a media ecosystem that is not only more just, but also more compelling, dynamic, and reflective of the Sierra Leone we want to live in.
This manifesto is therefore aimed at consolidating the significant gains we have made in the last five years and represents our collective vision and aspiration as journalists for the media we want in the next years.
We want the buy-in of politicians and hope that this document will serve as the framework for all future interventions in the media sector in Sierra Leone.
SLAJ and other media stakeholders will continue to work together to follow up on the implementation of this manifesto to ensure that it actually manifests in the media landscape in Sierra Leone.
Now, let me acknowledge the contributions of our general membership and heads of affiliate and sub-bodies.
I also recognise the support of and consultations with our various partners in enriching this manifesto: the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), Faculty of Communication, Media and Information Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, Bournemouth University (BU) UK, BBC Media Action Sierra Leone, the Independent Media Commission (IMC), and the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC); and the consultant, Dr. Francis Sowa.
Let me also acknowledge Dr. Isaac Massaquoi, who contributed the original concept of this manifesto.
Finally, a big thank you to the European Union for funding the development of this manifesto through International IDEA.
Thank you all.