President of the Republic of Sierra Leone Dr. Julius Maada Bio, on the 18th December 2020 met with a cross section of the Media during the Presidential Media Cocktail which took place at State House in Freetown.
He intimated that the year 2020 has been truly remarkable and exciting not only for the media in Sierra Leone but also the country adding that just this week, the Board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) unanimously approved Sierra Leone for a Compact.
The President told newsmen that they have achieved such because of the tremendous gains they have made in controlling corruption, investing in people, protecting democratic rights and enabling economic freedoms.
He assured that they will continue to improve on these gains and strengthen their partnership with the Government and People of the United States of America. The First Gentleman thanked the Honourable Vice President for his leadership and the entire team at the MCC Unit in Sierra Leone for their relentless hard work.
The President analyzed some of the reports by certain local tabloids vis-à-vis the implementation of certain policies and activities by the Government.
He stated that the repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965 and the enactment of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act 2020 will enhance professionalism in the media with several key benefits that will make the journalism profession an enviable career.
“Particularly, if the Independent Media Commission Act 2020 is carefully implemented, backed by a clear media code of practice, it will attract investment opportunities, enhance social security scheme for media practitioners amongst others,” he maintained adding that following the signing of the repeal, on 28th October, he promised that his Government would review the cases of all persons facing charges of criminal and seditious libel under the old law and it was accomplished.
Making reference to an appeal to the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice not to oppose bail application of Dr Sylvia O. Blyden, President Bio said The Calabash Newspaper on Tuesday 26th May published on its front page: “Yumkella Calls on Bio to be a good Political Samaritan”.
He said for him it was never about being a Political Samaritan because as he argued at the signing of the repeal, civilized and democratic countries cannot be seen as jailers of journalists when journalists exercise their professional responsibility to report objectively and ethically.
He said thankfully information attachés are not around and asked rhetorically: Isn’t it strange that I will not be getting that usual question: “When is the final Information Attachés’ list going to be announced sir?” The main objective of the recruitment and training, he said, was to enhance the capacity of the attachés and support their transitions into their new roles as budding diplomats.
President Bio revealed how Government was greatly concerned about the absence of a designated Government print media outlet for the dissemination of Government information following the induced collapse of SLENA and its associated publications; the Sierra Leone Daily Mail and Sierra News.
He said they are pleased to note that the Minister of Information and Communications was able to mobilize and leverage private sector resources to rehabilitate the collapsed building and revitalize Sierra News.
“It is also important to note that through my engagement with the United Kingdom Government, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office has committed to support the development of the Sierra Leone media especially in areas of institutional capacity building of professional bodies like SLAJ, its affiliate bodies and the Independent Media Commission,” the President stated.
He said he has also been reliably informed by the Minister that the Ministry of Information and Communications in collaboration with SLAJ has put the requisite tools together to host an investment conference on the Media that will attract investment in the media to alleviate media poverty and poverty in the media.
The President revealed that the investment conference is expected to hold early next year in commemorating the 50th anniversary of SLAJ and the 60th Anniversary of Independence respectively.
“I also want to commend the Minister and his team for the successful inaugural media retreat on our manifesto commitments held in Bo this week,” he commended.
On his part, the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, delivered a comprehensive and impressive statement.
He started off by saying that it is the season of Christmas and a time of the year when media practitioners socially interact with the President.
“It is also that time of the year when as little boys we used to go around the community singing carols and playing funny games,” he nostalgically looked back but lamented that the world has changed, and that tradition is slowly fading.
He said even during this COVID pandemic, which has prescribed a “new normal” in the way we live, dress, and work, it is noticeable how the President has arranged his choir men and women to sing to journalists carols of their achievements, packaged in well-designed project albums under different record labels.
The SLAJ President pointed out that in this 2020, dubbed “the year of accelerated delivery” by the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit, – the leading Choir group – the President has launched some 30 project albums ranging from Social Investment Fund and Insurance Scheme for Health Workers to Sexual Offences Model Court and Garbage Trucks.
He underscored that in the last three months alone, the President fast-tracked the acceleration by launching a record breaking of 18 albums.
“If the AWOL National Achievement Awards program was held this year, our President would undisputedly have won Artist of the Year 2020, to the amazement of music godfather Jimmy B, and Steady Bongo,” he said euphemistically.
He said, nevertheless, good prophets are usually not honoured in their own countries.
“Despite launching three hot-selling albums dedicated to the people of Constituency 110 at Goderich, the President’s party lost a key bye-election in that community this month,” Nasralla stated but was quick to state that the President made up for this loss internationally.
He said the very poorly rated ‘Makeni Generator’ and ‘Prison Break’ albums were not enough to deprive His Excellency of being shortlisted for the covetous international MCC Compact Award with the whopping prize money of US$400 million.
The Monk, as he is popularly known, added that shortly after, the President also won the prestigious European Union Budgetary Support award of US$15 million.
He said despite the impact of COVID-19, the year 2020 is ending on a high and promising note for Sierra Leone.
President of SLAJ said he was encouraged early this month by a photo taken in Abidjan of the former President (who is now the Emperor of Bombali) and our love-her-or-loathe-her First Lady.
He said in journalism, they say a photo is worth more than a thousand words.
“The message of peace from that photo is clear; but so also is the message of tension coming from the way the former President gripped his wine glass,” he said.
“Who knows, before the New Year begins, we might just see another unique photo of the First Lady and the new shadow President who addressed the nation today via social media audio,” he jokingly stated.
He said the President must have noticed that in all of the laudable progress the Government is making, the media is slow in telling the stories to the mountain tops.
According to him, that is partly because the media is a very difficult institution to impress adding that no matter how hard you try, the media is usually interested in what you have not done and what you could have done better, and they will tell you to try harder and harder.
He said that is why one section of the media hailing the efforts of the Government, another section trivializing those efforts, a third section is absolutely interested in entirely something else.
The SLAJ President underscored that the media owes the President a lot maintaining that out of nine (9) manifesto commitments to the media, the Government have delivered on two key ones this year- the annual subvention to the umbrella body SLAJ and the landmark repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel law.
“We are in discussions with the Ministry of Information for the holding of an investment conference for the media as part of activities marking our 50th anniversary next year,” he disclosed.
He said it is accepted that to whom much is given, much is expected furthering that the pay back by journalists is to practice the profession responsibly at all times; to guard, protect and promote the peace, stability and unity of the country; hold Government and public officials to account in a responsible manner and help in the fight against corruption; and above all provide timely and accurate information to the public as well as help in educating the masses on national issues.
Nasralla told the President that December is also the season of giving and receiving; few people give and many people expect to receive. He said sadly, because of COVID-19, Santa Claus will not be passing here this December stating that hopefully 2021 will be a year of delivery to the door steps of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
He stated three (3) things that media practitioners will want the President to deliver on in 2021: one of which is to see an improved relationship with the Opposition parties in the interest of peace, cohesiveness, inclusiveness and stability.
The other is the need to seriously address the ticking youth crisis in the country and to complete the Constitutional Review process to strengthen the governance practice of Separation of Powers.
He then on behalf of SLAJ and the entire media fraternity wished the President, the Chief Minister, the esteemed First Lady, and the People of Sierra Leone happy holidays and a Prosperous New Year 2021.
(C) The Calabash Newspaper