When people queued to cast their votes during the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections, one common thought that dangled in their hearts and minds, I supposed at the time, was that of ‘change’. The change, for many was expected to come in the form of a change in national leadership. Others were looking at it from the viewpoint of economic and social change. Politically, the change occurred. In the economic and social aspects, we are still faced with those challenges.
In this midst of change, we witnessed the disappearance of the ‘Kabbah tiger’ and then came the ‘Koroma Electricity’ even though my mum in a remote village in the north cannot talk of this much clamored ‘Koroma Electricity’. Not only that, the ‘dollar factor’ disappeared and then came the ‘global factor’. Today, if you go to the market, you won’t be told the dollar is up but instead ‘na globalization’, the market woman will, say to you. I am of the opinion that, more changes are on the way coming and also more things to disappear. Now a bag of rice is over one hundred thousand Leones and don’t ask me how much my mother receives as salary at the end of each month. The other day on my way to Kono, I paid more than I had anticipated and even the Guest House owners will tell you, due to the current global trend, they had to increase their fees.
And then, I said to myself, ‘what is the media’s role in this entire ‘global’ thing and in the present change we are going through as a nation?’
In the development of a given nation, especially one that has just emerged from a brutal civil war like ours, the Media must be seen playing an active role in the process of promoting development and as such, must do its best in meeting its cardinal responsibility to the masses.
No need denying the fact that, a nation cannot flourish where there isn’t the existence of a pluralistic and an independent media landscape. This is the case in our sister African country, Zimbabwe. Likewise it is happening in the Gambia. When people wanted a change, it is bound to be achieved in a democratic way and this, citizens demonstrated in 2007.
Prior to the Presidential elections, Media practitioners were very vibrant in checking and righting the wrongs of the then government. Those were the days that programmes like ‘front page’ became vocal and the now Information Minister, Kothor IB Kargbo was ever ready to be a panelist on front page. Front page commentaries were bent on looking at the wrongs of the then government.
Professor Septimus KaiKai, who was more media friendly than the current Ministers of Information seem to be, was also ever prepared to defend the policies of his government.
It was a very difficult task for him, taking into cognizance the fact that, SLPP, and by extension its presidential candidate was not marketable to the electorates of this country.
I must confess that, during those difficult and trying times of the SLPP, Professor KaiKai was very instrumental unto the last days of the SLPP, and no wonder the slogan ‘My president, your president and our president’ coined by our one time information minister. Indeed a media friend is missed in the world of Sierra Leone’s politics.
Our senior colleagues in the field of journalism, like David Tam Baryoh, Olu Richie Gordon, Paul Kamara et al were all calling for ‘change’. They criticized, and ‘nailed’, though constructively, those who were at their mercy.
People like Okere Adams, Solomon Berewa et al were their targets and indeed they were successful. For some like Berewa, people believed he was responsible for his predicament at that time. He allegedly blasphemed Christ. He denied but tapes were replayed at UN radio. Alas! He lost the elections.
But does the Media aught to stop at that? Sierra Leone is at the cross roads towards development. There are hopes, since we are in need of development but that could not come without the help of the Media. We have a very crucial role to play in this direction.
I have observed the writings and utterances of colleagues and senior media practitioners of late. Many seem to have taken the back seat. They seem to have changed their tones, their writings and their approach to national issues from the viewpoint of national leadership.
I have found it extremely difficult to understand how a journalist could display the cardinal principle of objectivity in journalism when the job is offered to that journalist by the powers-that-be. This to me could be one easy way to muzzle the media. President Ernest Koroma no doubt came with good intensions indeed but there must be people to check his deeds, his promises, and his performance and those people must include civil society and the media practitioners.
We have been experiencing difficulties under the current political setup. They came to power at a time that changes occurred within the global trend. Prices are skyrocketing daily.
A month’s salary for some civil servants could not meet the basic needs of a given family at a given point in time. The masses, to an extent rely on the media, especially the independent media to be talking on their behalf. But has that changed so quickly. I stay in the east of Freetown and I was an ardent listener to a popular radio program but I don’t know what is happening with that programme now.
During a recent visit to Kono, I was shocked to see the town in its present status, irrespective of the fact that, it accounts for a larger portion of the country’s mineral resources. Sometime last year, the Sunday Herald in the UK reported that, a mining company like Koidu Holdings is getting eleven thousand carats of diamonds monthly but this is not reflected on the people. People are not happy with the operations of corporate mining companies. Agreements between these companies and government are not in the favour of the people.
There are claims, and counter claims that, the recent past government is to blame for the current status of that part of the country. But this is not time for a blame game, as the people deserve the attention of government. The media must be seen playing an advocacy role in promoting the interest of the audience we serve.
In the process of moving towards this change that citizens called for in the just concluded elections, the media must not be seen at the back. It must take the lead. We know how powerful the media could at times appear and a case in point being the sweet and bad days of the SLPP regime.
They never had respect for the media and it was only after their defeat that, they realized the role the media could play in the attainment of political office.
The vibrant role that used to be played by colleagues must not be allowed to go down the drain. That is not to say, praise should not be given where it is deserved. President Koroma must not be allowed to fail and in this direction, the media should have its contribution.
By John Baimba Sesay