Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sierra Leone media urged to invest in contents

Members of the GoNE-SLS at the AGM at The Place Hotel in Tokeh Village
By Kemo Cham
[First published on] The print media needs to up its game by improving on contents, members of the Guild of Newspaper Editors of Sierra Leone (GoNE-SL) have been urged.
Various speakers at the first ever Annual General Meeting [AGM] of the Guild last week lamented the current state of the print media, particularly in terms of poor content production.
Media is about content and that’s why the Guild of Editors should encourage its members to invest in content product, said IMC Commissioner Francis Sowa.
The AGM was convened last Friday on the theme: ‘Elections and media, focus on the 2018 elections’.
The leadership of the Guild said it chose the theme in light of growing violence ahead of general elections expected in less than two years.
The last few weeks have witnessed a dramatic rise in violent unrests, mainly involving youths. In some cases it had been fatal.
This has prompted the Internal Affairs Ministry to institute stringent measures within the last few hours, including a ‘stop-and-search’ order, in a bid to counter the rise in violence said to have been fuelled by gangsterism.
The escalation of violence in the run up to the elections is a pointer to the problems ahead, said Donald Theo Harding, Chairman of the Guild.
“Sierra Leoneans and the international community are worried about how to mitigate this situation,” he added.
Election period are usually characterized by violence in Sierra Leone and often youths are used by rogue politicians who are known to use drug and alcohol to influence their behavior.
GoNE-SL Chairman Donald Theo Harding
Harding said they felt that the media could play a major role to minimize violence and help the public make informed choice in the elections.
Invited guest speakers, from the National Electoral Commission to the Anti Corruption Commission, to the UNDP, all touched on the role of the media in general and the print segment in particular in fostering peace and democracy.
The theme of the AGM is a clear indication that the media is aware that election is a process rather than event, said Ms Miata French, Commissioner of the National Elections Commission, who was the keynote speaker. In a marathon speech, she cautioned against sensational journalism, a practice she said gradually erodes credibility.
Through the media public opinion is shaped and at times manipulated, she said, reminding editors of their responsibility to ensure the right information is provided for the public to make informed decisions at the polls.
Francis Sowa, who represented the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), said the Guild had a critical role to play in promoting peace and strengthening of democracy, and that editors must endeavor to prevent chaos by discouraging hate speech and other malpractices in the profession.
MRCG is leading a major reform process of the media landscape in the country. It is doing so through a review of the Mass Communication curriculum review, among other measures.
Citing the need to put public interest before political interests, Sowa said leaders should be held to account but that this must be done with responsibility and within the confines of the ethics of the profession.
It is therefore incumbent for the Editors Guild to establish a peer review mechanism if they are to rectify the current anomalies plaguing the print media, he said.
He added that in order to ensure independence, media owners also needed to look at alternative business models.
“The MRCG believes that it is time to begin thinking about serious business models to run newspapers so that they become sustainable and viable, thereby not depending on political sponsors that will undermine their independence,” he stated.
The GoNE-SL was first established in 2010 in the northern town of Makeni. It was established under the chairmanship of Kelvin Lewis, managing Editor of Awoko newspaper and now President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ).
Lewis handed over the chairmanship of the Guild to his then deputy, Harding, when he decided to run for the presidency of SLAJ in 2013.
At last week’s AGM, the first ever of the Guild, delegates resolved, after a brief deliberation, to postpone a planned election for new executive, so that a number of issues yet unresolved, like membership status, the organization’s constitution, could be addressed.
A three-man committee was appointed to review a draft constitution within two months.
Harding was authorized by the plenary to select a team of his choice to work as an executive. They have one year from now to conduct elections.

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