The Deputy Information Minister, Mr. Cornelius Deveraux and top officials of the government media architecture attended the meeting.
Observers and media practitioners in both the country and the diaspora thought that the engagement was necessary at a time when there is an outcry in the society about fallen journalistic standards and reckless and irresponsible journalism practice in the country.
Observers also believe that close cooperation between the government and the media would help to obliterate the atmosphere of suspicion prevailing between the press and the government.
The Information Minister and his deputy, as well as media chiefs, were gratified that the session was innovative and bore no precedence in a country where a cat-and -dog relationship once existed between the media and the government. In this, the new Information Minister, Mr. Mohamed Bangura, deserves commendation for his style of leadership which is designed to engage the media fully in governance. Previously, the Sierra Leone media had felt itself marginalized and isolated while the government considered the media as a vehicle that is merely there to defame its appointees and officials and unreasonably criticize every program initiated by the government. It is this hostile working relationship between the government and the media that the Information Minister is trying to change.
Also present and hailing this first-of-its-kind interactive dialogue between the Government and the media were the Chairman of Independent Media Commission Ambassador Alieu Ibrahim Kanu), Interim Chairman Guild of Newspaper Editors Mr. Theo Harding and President of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Mr. Kelvin Lewis.
Many thorny issues between the government and the media were discussed : These included the 1965 Public Order Act in which is embedded the draconian Seditious Criminal Libel Law, which media practitioners consider anachronistic and out of line with the present democratic credentials of the nation and what the journalists consider the unreasonably high fines imposed on them by the Independent Media Commission ( IMC ) , as well as the alleged hostile attitude of the Police and the difficulty of extracting vital news and information from ministers and other government officials.
The Minister of Information, Mr. Mohamed Bangura, underlined the need for fair, responsible and accurate reporting of news by the media. He said that the Government has no intention to interfere with the social media but appealed to Sierra Leoneans to use it responsibly.
The Minister assured the media of government’s cooperation and commitment towards regular engagement with the media and the initiation of other areas of cooperation like a Presidential dinner with the media and an awards program to honor deserving journalists.
The Minister will also be meeting with proprietors of radio stations in the country with regards to having the media engage more in disseminating programs promoting local content.
These innovative moves by Mr. Mohamed Bangura should be highly commended because they will definitely bridge the gap between the governing authorities and the media and create a viable working relationship between them, which will augur well for responsible journalism on one side and transparent and accountable governance from the other side.
Another area of engagement I want to suggest is stemming the incidence of the media being used by disgruntled and unpatriotic elements not only to foment chaos in the country but reducing the nation to ridicule in the international arena. The media must never allow itself to be used as a tool by those who do not want to see progress in the country for purely partisan reasons.
There is no need for the government and the media to be at logger heads , especially in an era when, truth to speak, the government has demonstrated good faith in giving the media total freedom to practice their trade without any hindrance whatsoever. Sierra Leone, under the government of President Ernest Koroma , has one of the freest and most unfettered media in Africa.
While we continue to expect that the government does not interfere in the operations of the press, the media should reciprocate the goodwill of the government by being more responsible and patriotic in their presentation of events to the outside world. Both of them the government and the media–have a dual responsibility to work within their respective realms to help push the nation forward.