From the Editor’s Keyboard

Why should Kemoh Sesay resign?

26 July 2008 at 17:44 | 1104 views


By Gibril Koroma

The press in Sierra Leone still has a long way to go in terms of professionalism and general ethics. Looking at the current status and output of the media in that country, many people would hardly believe that Sierra Leone was once regarded as the Athens of West Africa(it produced the first university, the first newspaper, the first radio station etc in the sub-region).

Yes, a lot of trained, qualified and experienced Sierra Leonean journalists are out of the country today because of the machinations of satanic military and civilian politicians; but the truth is we now have a department of Mass Communications, established a few years ago which has been turning out what we hope are professional journalists.

From what I hear, see, and read however, things seem to have gone from bad to worse since I left Sierra Leone in 1997. The decadence and rot and utter hopelessness in the Sierra Leone media seem to have reached scandalous proportions.

Yes, there are a few guys trying to do a decent job out there to save our country’s name but frankly the majority of news organs in-country are a total mess, far below what high school students produce as newspapers or magazines in serious countries,not necessarily Western countries.

What baffles me is the graveyard silence of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, civil society and religious leaders when some members of the media clearly flout the media code of conduct and general ethical values, the kind of behaviour that could send the country back to the chaos and violence of the past. Yes, media recklessness can cause chaos and violence, that’s a no-brainer. Sierra Leoneans should stop being reactive and be proactive for once in their lives. We should stop only reacting to crises but rather act quickly to prevent them.

This brings me to the current media frenzy or hysteria over the cocaine incident. This is not the first cocaine that has been seized in Sierra Leone. Small quantities were seized at Lungi almost every month. It was even found in the diplomatic pouch of the Sierra Leone High Commission in London during the reign of the Kabbah-led SLPP government.

Cocaine, large quantities of it, are seized almost daily in developed countries. In Senegal, a country not far from Sierra Leone, the police seized over 2000 kilograms, almost thrice the amount seized in Sierra Leone, a few days after the Lungi incident. So cocaine busts are a common occurrence around the world these days; in some countries it’s no longer news, you will never see it on the front page of newspapers or magazines. But that should not discount the Lungi incident, the biggest haul in the country’s history. It’s quite serious for a poor, beggar nation like ours struggling to stablilize itself after years of extreme violence, white-collar robbery and general backwardness. We need to move forward, not backward. The cocaine trade and all its repercussions will only send us back to the caves instead of the realm of nanotechnology and outer space.

It’s unfortunate therefore that most of the media in Sierra Leone look at issues through APC or SLPP lenses. Everything is politicised including serious issues like the cocaine incident. Politicians are using the media in Sierra Leone to fight their wars in ways I have never seen before. Many journalists in the country, obviously in bed with the politicians, no longer bother to get the two sides necessary in a story nor do they give the person they attack the chance to defend themselves, and that includes the president and his spouse!

Sierra Leone is the only country in the world where journalists constantly insult and falsely accuse the president and sometimes his spouse and get away with it. Is that demcocracy? I don’t think so; something is wrong, seriously wrong.

And yet we have organizations like the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and the Independent Media Commission sitting there and doing practically nothing. As a media advocate with many years of experience, I am the last person to call for a clamp down on the press, but what’s happening in the Sierra Leone media scene is cause for concern.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression have their limits and there should be safeguards against abuse and unprofessional behaviour.

Take the case of the minister of Transport and Aviation of Sierra Leone. Since the cocaine bust at the country’s only international airport, this guy has been attacked, vilified, tried and sentenced by some sections of the media in Sierra Leone, all because his brother is one of the suspects. Some papers are even asking him to resign. Come on, I know of a former president of Sierra Leone whose family members had serious encounters with the law in and out Sierra Leone, but nobody asked him to resign. In fact most people in past governments had high level criminals as family members. Sierra Leone is a small country with a small population and numerous extended family links.

So I think Kemoh’s harassment is politically motivated. The man has not been accused of a crime, none of the papers that wrote about him have interviewed him or even contacted him. The guilt of his brother under police custody has not yet been proven nor has he(the brother) said anything yet in court nor has evidence been produced against him. The police and the prosecution still have a lot of work to do and we should wait for them, with all their constraints, to do their job.

I have never met Kemoh, neither have I talked to him, but I find the animosity and vitriol against him on this particular issue just amazing. Okay, you can hate the man, but give him a chance to defend himself. That’s the most basic rule in Journalism. Journalism 101.