In Africa, the Sierra Leonean media have been among the most vibrant, as journalists have incessantly struggled with politicians who twist the meaning of constitutionality and expect to get away with it. The struggle has been a long one, starting from the days of ITA Wallace Johnson and others in their struggle against colonial authoritarianism, to the days of Ibrahim Taqi, Sam Metzger, Dr. Sam Hollist and others. These journalists had a long struggle in containing the excesses of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) at the time and also restrained SLPP from entrenching authoritarianism.
Then came the days of Bunting Davies, Pios Foray and others in their struggles to contain the excesses of the All Peoples Congress 1 (APC-1) of Siaka Stevens. But throughout these periods there was much solidarity amongst journalists, so it was not therefore easy to throw anyone to the sharks. The reign of the National Provisional Ruling Council 1 (NPRC-1) of Valentine Strasser was a bit of a nightmare for journalists but they stood together and fought back for their freedom. The NPRC soldiers first had a misconception of the role of the press; they resorted to oppression and brutality on journalists but as time went on, with the insistence of the journalists on adhering to democratic tenets and the watchful eyes of the international community, they soon shaped up. It was the press that compelled the NPRC 2 of Julius Maada Bio, even with his surreptitious moves of persuading Sierra Leoneans to accept what he called Peace Before Elections, to return the country to democratic civilian rule. The country was experiencing a raging war but the press showed them the light so that they would not be hoodwinked into allowing junta rule to extend with the deceptive campaign of peace at the time. Backed and enlightened by the press, the populace kicked out against it and manifested their rejection of Bio’s mischievous Peace Before Elections campaign.
The noise the press made together with James Jonah’s clarion call for a national consensus on the issue through Bintumani 1 and 11, made the junta to back down.
Today, journalists are facing many challenges. In a country with almost 65 percent illiteracy, it is the journalists who are the light of the state.
They are the only people who could question the President, Vice President, and
you name them, because it is a constitutional responsibility to compel public
servants to be accountable to the people. If they renege on this duty, then
Sierra Leone is doomed. I have always said it and will say it again, that If I
were to choose between an irresponsible government and an irresponsible press, I would choose the latter. So, let all journalists come together and manifest that
they are one and the same people. Stop the press wars, the bickering and
malicious propaganda against each other. It is time for journalists to stop
betraying their colleagues for a few thousand Leones because when you do that you have weakened the cohesive foundation of the media. Once in while, we need to meet as journalists either in workshops or seminars to share ideas, throw light on our problems and resolve to be united always.
I would like to use this opportunity to doff my hat to the Sierra Leone Association of journalists in its struggle to seek the welfare of Journalists and protect their rights so as to enhance free speech which is the hallmark of any democratic society.