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STATE OF THE MEDIA REPORT IN SIERRA LEONE – 2014 AN OUTSIDER’S INDEPENDENT VIEW OF THE MEDIA IN SIERRA LEONE

By: Winstanley R. Bankole. Johnson

(REPRODUCED ON AUTHORITY FROM THE MEDIA REFORM CO-ORDINATING GROUP (MRCG) SIERRA LEONE)

 

Let me express my gratitude to the editorial Board of the Media Reform Co-ordinating Group of Sierra Leone (MRCG-SL) for inviting me to do this write up on the topic: “A Outsider’s Independent View of the Media in Sierra Leone”, to complement their observance of this year’s World Media Day.

 

Thematic Streams

Journalism as a vocation or profession has existed from time immemorial, but it wasn’t until May of 2011 at the graduation ceremonies of my last daughter Cheryl Olatokunbo with a first degree in Print Journalism from the Virginia Commonwealth University held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, that I became aware of the various thematic streams of Journalism as follows-: Public Relations; Broadcast Journalism; Creative Advertising; Print Journalism and Strategic Advertising. Advanced Certificates are also obtainable at Masters level in “Strategic Public Relations” and “Multi-Media Journalism”.

 

Specialization

The primary objectives of journalism or the media generally being to “inform, educate and entertain”, advanced countries had over time further broadened those thematic streams to foster specialization, enhance professionalism and the technical savvy of the practitioners, in the same way other professions have re-engineered their disciplines to achieve greater specialization amongst their cadres, sustain their relevance and also mitigate unethical tendencies likely to bring their memberships into disrepute. Thus in Medicine and Law for example, opportunities exist for the practitioners to become specialized to better capacitate them for quality service delivery to patients and clients alike.

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One cannot say with any degree of certainty whether those same opportunities for specialization exist for our media practitioners beyond the award of their “general” or “honours” certificates in Mass Communications from the University, but practical evidences would seem to suggest the contrary, insofar as “informing, educating and entertaining” the public is concerned, leaving one to safely conclude that there is much room for improvement. I shall treat each segment briefly on its merit as follows-:

 

THE PRINT MEDIA

In this segment, sensationalism is the order of the day, with the bodyline or narrative reflecting a total disconnect from screaming headlines. Syntax is lost in ubiquitous reportages, leaving the reading public unprofessionally short-changed in value.

 

Objectivity is often subsumed by insinuations of practitioners deliberately slanting opinions in favour of counter-parties, aspersions become couched in specious attempts to intimidate innocent and peaceful citizens unable or reluctant to seek legal redress for defamation against libel or slander.

 

The readership is interested in is information, education and entertainment updates; not diatribes and mudslinging between and amongst giant protagonists Journalists. But what they invariably become exposed to are press wars, waged either directly between editorial giants or as political proxies – for contract fees.

 

THE ELECTRONIC MEDIA

The demerits of the print media are also akin to the electronic media, except that in the latter case it is much easier to discern fickle-minded moderators. Their choices of questions are either extremely watered down or posed in a leading way, even as interventions of panelist or callers with dissenting views are interrupted or have their calls distorted, all of which do not reflect professionalism or a desire to grow.

 

Thankfully unlike the print media where one is stuck with newspapers purchased, a listener to an electronic airwave is always spoilt for a choice and can exercise that right as it pleases him or her by switching to alternative frequencies.

 

Coverage

It has to be agreed though that one notable difference between the two is that in recent years, the area of coverage by the electronic media has grown exponentially, courtesy of the Media Reform Co-ordinating Group Sierra Leone (MRCG-SL) and their local and international partners. The print media dissemination and circulation would seem not to have grown beyond the same bounds that existed since the 80s volume-wise per capita population in the major provincial towns and cities, as is commensurate with the population growth in those areas.

Powers

As Jeffrey Blant, former senior Director of the NBC News once said and I quote-: “Anyone who communicates for a living has enormous powers” – unquote. That aptly describes how impactful the media can be, depending of course on the skill and articulating prowess of the practitioner. It is sad to note however that that dictum is rarely harnessed by local media practitioners, of course to their social detriment.

Accepted, new recruitment vistas have complimented the exponential outturn of practitioners, so we now have Communications Officers attached to MDAs including our Foreign Missions and major multi-national institutions mindful of their corporate image. But more in the case of our MDAs, objectivity becomes subsumed apparently for political or pecuniary gains, or outright mercenary intentions.

 

Hazards

One cannot discuss the media in Sierra Leone without making reference to some of the occupational hazards – perceived or actual – to which media practitioners become occasionally exposed to, and which to some extent can be said to constitute some of the factors inhibiting their performances. True the Public Order act of 1965 might be having some severe restrictions on their overall output, but given the number and frequency of enforced or voluntary retractions and apologies published by offending Editors emanating from various genuine complainants, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that 60% of risks media practitioners become exposed to is self-inflicted.

 

Vanilla Practitioners

My respectful submission is that with a little bit more research, investigative analysis and objectivity, those risks could be mitigated or even avoided by distinguishing between personal opinions and the facts. And that is where “Vanilla Practitioners” -i.e. those lacking in specialization irrespective their years in the trade – fall prey. The need for specialization therefore could not be overemphasized. And that is the difference between the media here and that in the civilized world, where correspondents and reporters manifest such exceptional skills in specific areas such as the Theatre and Arts, Music, Law, Medicine, Aviation; Education, the Sciences, Horticulture, Sports (not as in the plagiaristic “cut and paste” manner evident in our newspapers, but as would evince the reporters’ initiatives) etc..etc..that they rarely fall off the legal plank through the practice of “yellow” journalism. The greatest beneficiaries are the readership and listeners who become adequately informed, educated, entertained and left feeling refreshed in the process. And that is path the media in Sierra Leone must begin to                                                     tread.

 

Thank you all very much for your attention.

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