By: Christian Conteh
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in partnership with the Independent Radio Network (IRN), the Independent Media Commission (IMC) and the Inter-Religious Council Sierra Leone (IRCSL) in its capacity as lead implementing partner has officially launched the project titled ‘Expanding the Democratic Space in Sierra Leone – Media Capacity Enhancement to Promote Peaceful Elections, Women’s Participation, Public Interest and Conflict Mitigation’ in Sierra Leone’s June 24th, 2023 elections.
The project, which is funded by Irish Aid (Embassy of Ireland in Sierra Leone), aims to provide an enabling environment for media operations and foster informed and inclusive citizens’ participation in peaceful elections processes nationwide. The official launch event took place on Wednesday, May 17th, 2023, at the Civil Service Training College on Tower Hill in Freetown.
During the launch, Ransford Wright, the National Coordinator of the Independent Radio Network, emphasized the significance of enhancing professionalism among journalists within the framework of the project. Wright highlighted that IRN’s activities would focus on objective and impartial reporting, stating that, the media plays an important role in information dissemination.
“Radio still remains the most effective means of getting information. At least 60 to 70% of the population access radio,” Wright said.
He expressed his appreciation to Irish Aid for their support, recognising radio’s crucial role in delivering vital information to remote villages.
Wright also emphasised the potential dangers of misinformation, stating, that misinformation can cause fear and violence.
“In response, IRN plans to utilise its innovative simulcast approach by connecting 50 radio stations across the country. On election day, IRN will provide 24 hours of continuous broadcast, deploying 550 reporters to deliver real-time updates on the electoral process. Additionally, IRN intends to establish three desks for national results and analysis and integrating programming through social media platforms to disseminate credible information,” Wright said.
Khalil Kallon, the Executive Secretary of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), expressed his enthusiasm for being part of the project. Kallon highlighted the IMC’s commitment to reviewing regulations and developing a comprehensive document dedicated solely to election coverage.
The IMC, he said, plans to deploy rapid response teams across the country to monitor media institutions and promptly address any breaches, with a focus on enhancing professional media conduct.
“We seek to enhance professional media conduct; we do not seek to control the media,” he maintained.
Reverend Dr. Usman Jessie Fornah, the General Secretary of the Inter-Religious Council, expressed gratitude to Irish Aid for the opportunity to contribute to a violence-free election. He highlighted the council’s role as the “moral guarantors of the state” and their expertise in social mobilisation and peace mediation.
Fornah announced that the Council would conduct training programs for religious leaders in violence-prone areas, equipping them with conflict management and conflict-sensitive reporting skills. The Council also aims to engage local communities in violent prevention initiatives, empowering them to address conflicts promptly without relying solely on central authorities.
Fornah underscored the Council’s commitment to monitoring and intervening in conflict situations during the electoral process.
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, the President of SLAJ, outlined the Association’s role in advocating for freedom of expression, improving working conditions for journalists, and enhancing their capacity.
“We shall provide training on gender-sensitive reporting in 8 districts, targeting at least 40 journalists per district,” Nasralla said.
He emphasised the specific focus on empowering women journalists and the establishment of the SLAJ gender advisory panel, which will address gender-related issues within the association. Nasralla also mentioned leveraging social media to promote media regulations and the production of voter education and peace message flyers.
In her keynote address, Ambassador Claire Buckley reaffirmed Ireland’s commitment to enhancing media capacity and promoting peaceful elections in Sierra Leone. She acknowledged the crucial role of media and faith-based institutions in addressing tensions caused by hate speech and misinformation. Ambassador Buckley emphasised the importance of a free and independent media that holds duty bearers accountable and fosters meaningful debates. The project aims to ensure effective coverage, transparency, and integrity in the electoral process while promoting policy-based discussions.
“We believe that this project will contribute to focusing the elections discourse on policies rather than personality, substance rather than regional and tribal rhetoric. We hope it will support effective coverage and overall transparency as well as the integrity of the electoral process, including promoting the plurality of views across political divides. Most important of all, we believe that it will promote media engagement in the elections in an independent, impartial and professional manner,” Buckley said.
The project launch signifies a significant step towards strengthening the media landscape in Sierra Leone and fostering a peaceful and inclusive electoral process with the collaboration of various stakeholders and the support of Irish Aid.