By: Christian Conteh
In preparation for the upcoming June 24 elections, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) successfully concluded a comprehensive training program on safety and security guidelines for female journalists.
The training, held on Friday, June 9, 2023, at the Civil Service Training College on Tower Hill in Freetown, drew participation from journalists representing various media institutions in Freetown.
Under the project titled: “Expanding the democratic space in Sierra Leone – Media capacity enhancement in promoting peaceful elections, women’s participation, public interest, and conflict mitigation in Sierra Leone’s June 24th, 2023 elections,”
supported by Irish Aid, SLAJ aims to strengthen media capacity and contribute to the holding of credible, inclusive, and peaceful elections in Sierra Leone.
Speaking at the opening session, Mohamed Konneh, the Financial Secretary of SLAJ, emphasised the project’s significance. He highlighted the European Union Election Observation Mission’s recommendations from 2018, which mentioned the need to strengthen media independence, impartiality, and professionalism in reporting on elections.
Drawing strength from these recommendations, SLAJ and its partners, including IRN, IMC, and the Inter-Religious Council, are determined to ensure a violence-free election in 2023. Recognising the crucial role of a free and independent media, SLAJ believes that it informs and mobilizes citizens, facilitates meaningful debates, and holds duty-bearers accountable for the betterment of democracy.
The project’s broader commitment is to enhance citizens’ participation in democratic processes and institutions, particularly during a time of increased tensions influenced by hate speech, fake news, and misinformation, primarily spread through social media. In this context, the media and faith-based organisations like the Inter-Religious Council play a critical role in promoting peace, understanding, and responsible journalism.
“The training on Safety and Security Guidelines for female journalists will be rolled out to benefit a total of 250 female Journalists from across the country. These training are being conducted in all five regions, specifically targeting the respective districts in the regions. Training will cover basic safety and security tips that are essential for the protection of female Journalists,” Konneh said.
Women journalists often encounter gender-specific safety risks, including sexual harassment, sexual violence, and threats of violence. To mitigate these risks, experts like Umaru Fofana, BBC Stringer and Former President of SLAJ, highlighted the importance of journalists’ awareness of their safety and security while exposing corrupt or evil activities.
The facilitators also provided practical advice to female journalists during this politically charged period. They emphasised the significance of avoiding flashy attire or accessories, revealing clothing, and high heels shoes. Maintaining personal space and positioning oneself in a neutral location during potentially volatile situations, such as covering riots, were also suggested.
Eastina Taylor, President of Women in the Media Sierra Leone, urged participants to prioritise the security of their families and stay connected with their loved ones, especially school-goers who could be targeted to intimidate journalists.
Furthermore, the facilitators encouraged participants to conduct safety and threat analyses before attending events and to remain vigilant of their surroundings. Recognising potential threats, evaluating their positions, and diffusing situations whenever possible were emphasised. Additionally, they emphasised the importance of staying with their team to ensure safety in numbers.
The training concluded with an engaging experience-sharing session, allowing participants to exchange insights, followed by a question-and-answer segment.
SLAJ’s efforts to empower female journalists with safety and security knowledge underscore their commitment to responsible journalism and the protection of media professionals during the election period. With the training provided, these journalists are now equipped to cover the upcoming elections securely and effectively.