Salone News

The Current Media Situation in Sierra Leone

By  | 25 February 2014 at 00:36 | 1037 views

Analysis

The destiny of most African nations now hinges on their media which have
great roles to play in lifting their countries out of the doldrums,
enhance accelerated development, good governance and the protection of
fundamental human rights , but in many situations like in Sierra Leone, the
media have become so hawkish and mischievous that they aid bad governance and also by their subjectivity create acrimony within the society which is
responsible for the fragmentation of the cohesive foundations of the nation –states.

In Sierra Leone, there are nearly 50 newspapers but many are not regular
and the playing field in the market is not level, which makes it difficult for
newly established newspapers or papers that do not thrive on sensationalism to
survive.

In a society where sensationalism is what determines a journalist’s or
a newspaper’s popularity, the layman would perceive the sensational or popular
journalists as “good journalists”. Hence many journalists become friends of
subjectivism and enjoy cheap popularity even at the cost of undermining the
integrity of the profession, but the few good ones who decide to walk on the
straight path uphold the ethics of the profession even though they fail to win
accolades and popularity. On the other hand, politics greatly influences the
editorial policies of newspapers and radio stations. Even though some claim to
be “independent” yet their articles and reportage reflect a leaning towards a
particular party.

However, there are some that lean towards a particular party yet
make it clear that they are not independent and are most times more fair than the so-called “independent” newspapers.

The market situation on the other hand is also an impediment to the growth of
not only the big papers but even the small ones. There are no market structures for the distribution of newspapers and hence newspaper editors and managers have to rely on the vendors who have to hawk the newspapers and sometimes cannot reach remote areas or far distances. The cost of production on the other hand is higher than the revenue from sales of newspapers thus transforming newspaper owners into magicians to sustain their newspapers.

In such a situation they have to depend on advertisement from corporate institutions and private enterprises who most times have a preference for the big papers, but even when journalists get the adverts, it takes ages for payment to come and sometimes they get it in tranches during which time they would have accumulated huge debts in running the papers or radio stations.

After almost eleven years of civil strife which ushered a cataclysmic scenario that subjected Sierra Leoneans to horrendous experiences, the nation in the post-war era has to sustain a fragile peace which may be achieved or destroyed
through the media. In the midst of this fair- is -foul and foul- is -fair
situation in the media, many journalists frantically try to exhibit professionalism and responsible dispositions, but there are others who
manifest waywardness either because of lack of adequate knowledge or they are
influenced by the mad rush to hop on the get-rich- quick train. In such a
situation the utilisation of newspapers for malevolent objectives by individuals
in the society becomes a common phenomenon. This does not augur well for the cohesiveness of the nation-state because journalists end up becoming
mercenaries to carry out evil machinations of people and also to fulfill vengeful missions.

The radio stations are also multiplying by the day. Almost every community can
now boast of a radio station, but it becomes difficult for the Independent
Media Commission, the country’s media regulatory body to monitor them. In the case of community radio stations they have to make use of volunteers because of lack of financial resources. In some stations Disc Jockeys who merely rely on common sense to manage their own music programmes because they never had opportunities to be trained even take the risk of becoming news programme producers and incidentally slaughter people’s reputations in awful ignorance.

Also, one of the biggest threats in the electronic media is paid programmes
which have been misused by many members of the public to vent anger, revenge or carry out personal vendettas. Those affected are usually expected to also pay to make responses. When that happens, the other party who originated the allegations may also come back to the same radio station and undo the person who replies by distorting facts and twisting contexts of what the person has stated in his reply.

Even though it is unethical and illegal for any person or group of persons to make specific allegations against others on air, yet still news programme managers take the risk as long as the persons are willing to pay, thus transforming radio stations into reputation- slaughter- houses. This accounts for the prevailing press wars which are characteristic of the Sierra Leonean media. Journalists would even be willing to slaughter their colleagues’ reputation to satisfy customers who pay money to fulfill a personal vendetta or stage manage an event against a particular person or fulfill a mischievous objective.

This phenomenon has made many mischievous and discontented elements in public and learning institutions, associations, you name it, to perceive the media as a battle field that gives them the opportunity to "kill" enemies.

There have been calls for IMC to come up with new codes to curb this phenomenon which is undermining public order and harmony. The IMC Code of Practice contains the regulations for the print and electronic media. It however has its own weaknesses. For instance, even though the code of practice requires all radio and television stations hosting phone–in-programmes to have the capacity for screening in-coming calls before putting the caller on air, the stations do not have the capacity to delay calls before broadcast , which makes the social media to be an instrument of mischief. It thus enables a caller to make libelous statement on air before being cut off. But even when the person is in the studio, he could not be prevented from doing the same when he has paid for such programs.

What some journalists have failed to take into consideration is the
fact that there are two essentials that must be reconciled in law and in
professional practice; the right to communicate (free speech) and the right to reputation. Since there is usually a conflict of judgement between the victim and the libeler as to what is right, the IMC has taken the onus of serving as an ombudsman.

But even though some journalists have transformed themselves into instruments of mischief in their pursuit of economic objectives, yet still all of them, the good the bad and ugly journalists are faced with a dreadful octopus called seditious libel which can land any journalist in jail not just because it is a
law but because the political atmosphere may change and create a murky
atmosphere in which the journalists end up falling into the trenches. There have
been several clamours for the law which is in the Public Order Act of 1965 to
be amended, but the debate between irresponsibility of journalists, right to
free speech and the reputation and safety of individuals and the state at large,
has always over dominated any argument in favour of the journalists. But the truth is, when the number of bad journalists reduces in the field, the good ones will step in and freedom of speech would triumph over the political hammer. The
Rwandan situation has always served as food for thought for many nations in the Third World on the mischief of the media.

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