Salone News

Vanguard Deputy Editor Thrills Toronto Audience

17 February 2007 at 06:53 | 3808 views

By Our Correspondent

“The media in Africa has an onerous challenge of living up to the responsibility of the covetous position of being the Fourth Estate by courageously highlighting the scandalous complicity of Private Military Corporations (PMCs) in the gross violations of human rights in their reportage of news”. The Deputy Editor of The Patriotic Vanguard Abdulai Bayraytay made this statement in his contribution to a panel discussion on the topic “African media-an instrument of the people or the state”? held at the Leslie Dan Pharmacy Building, University of Toronto in Canada on Thursday February 15.The Vanguard’s Winnipeg correspondent, Sahr Musa Yamba, originally scheduled to speak at the event could not make it.

Bayraytay(photo) particularly drew the attention of his audience to “Blood diamond” (a movie depicting the barbaric and brutal massacre of innocent and unsuspecting civilians during the civil conflict in his war-torn country from 1991 until 2002). He maintained that the availability of small arms and light weapons exacerbated the atrocities, noting that unfortunately such weapons are not manufactured in Sierra Leone.

“While it is nice to report on graft and the lack of good governance, it is the moral responsibility of us practicing journalists to make the inextricable link between the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the plundering of our natural resources like diamonds, in our reportage of the news so that the West cannot just blame Africa for the collapse of African states” Bayraytay charged amid thunderous applause.

Bayraytay particularly cited the hopelessness of the government-controlled media in Sierra Leone during the rebel invasion of the capital Freetown in January 1999 during which then Information Minister ranted over the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that civilians were providing information about the whereabouts of the rebels.

This, to say the least, set in motion the killing machine of rebels of the Revolutionary United Front and remnants of the Sierra Leone army who unleashed unprecedented carnage that led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Placing his hope on the courageous role civil society played in the restoration of the democratically elected government, and in recognition of the role civil society is presently playing in thwarting the dictatorial rule of president Lansana Conte of Guinea, Bayraytay called on the media to more diligently work in concert with progressive civil organizations if democracy and human rights should thrive in Africa. He used the occasion in a rather somber and mournful tone by calling on the audience to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the innocent civilians killed in the ongoing mayhem in Conakry, Guinea.

In his contribution, the Ghana country director of Journalists for Human rights (JHR), Ato Kwamena Dadzie, who is on a speaking tour across Ontario, Canada maintained that the press in his native country of Ghana has made enormous contributions to the sustenance of democracy and the rule of law. He was however quick to bash previous military governments, especially the Provisional National Defence Council(PNDC)under erstwhile president Jerry Rawlings of muzzling the press out of fear of exposing the excesses of the military. “Today, we have well over a hundred and four radio stations across Ghana. An indication of how free the press has been over the years. This does not however mean there are no contending challenges”, he concluded.

Another panelist from Zimbabwe, Innocent Madawo cited the dictatorial and draconian press laws in his country, indicting president Robert Mugabe as a modern day dictator. Madawo was however quick to exonerate Robert Mugabe on the redistribution of land from the Zimbabwean white population to blacks, saying that the current the land imbroglio was as a result of British prime minister Tony Blair’s reneging on an agreement the British government entered into with Zimbabwe for the equal redistribution of land. “But the Western press has reported the land issue in Zimbabwe with bias”, Madawo charged.

A Nigerian journalist on the panel, Lekan Akinosho, accused the Western media of bias in the reporting of the crisis in the Niger Delta. He said this was not surprising since the multi-national corporations depleting the oil resources most times work hand in gloves with the giant Western media outlets thereby skewing the news to fit the propaganda agenda of the corporate business interests.

The discussion, hosted by Toronto-based Journalists for Human Rights, included other panelists like former Ugandan journalism professor, Thomas Asiimwe and a Ghanaian-Canadian expert on African governance Nick Fobih. Canada’s CTV AM news anchor and recipient of the Canadian Radio and Television News Directors’ Award in 1995, Marci Ien, moderated the event. Diplomats from particularly the African diplomatic corps, students and journalists graced the event. Also in attendance were the Patriotic Vanguard’s Features editor Zubairu Wai and a Toronto-based Sierra Leonean pharmacist Moses Batema.

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