“Special interests have taken over our respect and dignity with our association’s leaders serving anything but our interest as Journalists. Some of them are not even on speaking terms because of selfish considerations, while at least one of them even seeks to tamper with the editorial independence of media institutions; once they write about his personal interests and even serves as an attack dog against colleagues when they disagree on editorial issues”
This is part of Umaru Fofanah dedication in his manifesto for running for the SLAJ Presidency. Shivers ran down my spine when I read his manifesto and especially the above quotation. From all indications, SLAJ has not been that association one would have expected.
Journalism in Sierra Leone was over the years practiced by simply taken a note pad and a pen to qualify as a journalist. That phenomenon is still being tolerated as School Leavers who enter the profession is left to grow and rot. This has been the reason why most people laugh at us for simply saying that we are the Fourth Estate.
They may be right to, considering the number of years other professionals spend on training as compared to Journalists. One does not only need to robe himself or put on a wig to qualify as a Lawyer; or to simply put a stethoscope around one’s neck to qualify as a Medical Doctor. As for the Lawyer, they have to go through four (4) years of studies and a year at the law school before they are called to the Bar and subsequently after their pupilage; they are given licenses to practice.
To qualify as a Medical Doctor, some would have to take (6) years, others seven (7) or eight (8) years. After that they enter their pupilage which is about two years before they are allowed to practice medicine. But alas: is that the way journalists are recruited? You have the answer.
With these laid down procedures for the Bar Association and the Medical and Dental Association, the profession would have the respect it deserves. That is why the respect of SLAJ has over the years being deemed low in the eyes of many and SLAJ would have had its respect if , as Umaru put it “we do not need to carry out any research to know that our colleagues have compromised our cardinal value. In addition to the defence of shady investors and public officers as well as attacks against genuine ones without consideration for the survival of our Country, is the reason the public has little respect for and sympathy with us”
Again, Umaru, as if I was speaking for him, touched on the ‘catch them young philosophy’ that is, by building the capacity of the young journalists. I was fortunate to benefit for a short live scholarship from SLAJ in 2000/1 to study at the Mass Communication Department together with other beneficiaries who are still disillusioned. Only God knows how much we trek from one place to another for our fees. Pat Mackarone who was also a beneficiary has a dossier on that. This is basically why Umaru wants to come in to salvage the situation.
Graduates from the Mass Communication Department thrive on Public Relations job, as they are better paid, compared to those in the Print and Electronics Media.
Just as Umaru opined, some of us have chosen this profession and are still courageous to stay on and proud to be a Journalist; and I see Umaru as that person who represents the interest of the young and also to give hope to them.
Some of us, especially the young have suffered a lot in the hands of some rogue Managing Editors who connive with corrupt Politicians and rogue businessmen in ripping the Country. This is the time for us to restore the dignity of our Association so that the public would help us in the fight against bad laws impinging the practice of Journalists.
Again, this is the time we should be proud of our leadership that would not only represent us well internally, but one that does it internationally. That change I see in Umaru Fofanah, that change I believe in Umaru, the Obama of SLAJ
By Ishmael Bayoh