By Amin Kef-Ranger
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) held its Triennial General Meeting 2022 in Makeni, Northern Sierra Leone from the 15th to the 19th June, 2022 at the University of Makeni (UNIMAK) Auditorium with the theme, “Towards An Economically Viable & Independent Media’’, which was attended by Media Practitioners from all the regions within the country and climaxed with the election of a new Executive body.
Those in attendance included the Mayor of the Makeni City Council, Sunkarie Kabba-Kamara, Paramount Chief Bai Shebora Kansangha11, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Solomon Jamiru, the representative of the European Union Delegation, the Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Dr Victor Massaquoi and the CEO/MD of UBA Sierra Leone, Usman Isiaka, who delivered the keynote address as well as other well wishers.
On day one of the Triennial Meeting, the President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, who went unopposed, informed the august body that
it is a tradition to remember colleagues who have passed on during the course of the year naming Abdul Khanja Jalloh, Amb. Jonathan Leigh, John Mansaray, Ransford Lubi Metzger, Alpheus Rogers, and Foday Musa and prayed that the souls of the dear departed rest in peace.
He furthered that the 51st Annual General Meeting of the Association is specifically designed to continue the conversation around three key issues that are crucial to the development of the media and journalism in Sierra Leone making reference to Media Viability, Welfare and Self-Regulation.
The SLAJ President underscored that he believes it is time for media owners to brace up and face the realities of the times we are living in maintaining how it is difficult to leave the past behind but stressed that media owners can only learn from it and use those lessons of the past to confront a future of limitless opportunities.
“It is time for a forward looking posture to have a clear picture of where we want to be and work to get there by all means,” he enjoined cautioning that the days of giving excuses and always highlighting challenges should be over.
He stated how there will always be challenges but said it is how they are addressed that matters and that should be the focus adding that the question of how to transform the media is begging for collective ideas and sustainable solutions.
According to him, it is imperative to adopt new business models because certainly the ones that are have been used over the years are not working.
He asked the important question: “Do we have the market for all the huge number of media institutions the IMC has registered in its 22 years’ history to operate in the very small capital city whose numbers have decreased according to the latest Census?” challenging all to think and reflect.
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla asked the question if it is time for mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, partnerships etc maintaining how indeed he thinks it is indeed time emphasizing that such time is now
He said media owners and practitioners have an opportunity in the recommendations of the media viability and investment conference that was held in the recent past stating how the conference recommended a number of things to be done moving forward
The President stated how there is dire need for a national policy on advertising, that Government and development partners should commit to a national fund for public interest media, the need to tackle gender imbalance in the media sector, reviewing of the existing legal and regulatory framework for the media, how Government should continue to show the political will necessary to drive media market reforms and underscoring that perhaps more importantly, the media should commit to re-engineering the industry in order to boost the potential for attracting private-sector investment and public subsidies.
He said there is the need to come together to work towards realizing the implementation of the aforementioned wonderful recommendations with the need for media owners to turn the searchlight on themselves.
“We need to have effective governance and management structures in our media houses,” he recommended.
He admonished that to help continue that very important conversation media practitioners and owners are honoured to have the CEO/MD of UBA Sierra Leone, Usman Isiaka, as keynote speaker to talk on the theme of the Triennial General Meeting.
“After this opening ceremony, Isiaka will join an entrepreneurial journalist from the Africa Paper based in the US, and a digital media journalist to further discuss issues around the theme,” he revealed.
He furthered that the second crucial issue is welfare of reporters or journalists in general especially how to ensure their welfare which, he said, is an age-old problem of the media industry in the country.
The SLAJ President said when media houses become economically viable entities that should naturally reflect in the welfare conditions of reporters underscoring why the need to urge all media owners to adopt new and innovative approaches to their operations.
“We also urge all to be compliant with NASSIT and NRA regulations and for the IMC to be robust in ensuring compliance,” he stated adding how SLAJ is working with the Sierra Leone Reporters Union (SLRU), probably its largest affiliate body and the most affected that is repeatedly described as poverty of the media, in their engagement with the Ministry of Labour to acquire a bargaining certificate that will help to address the welfare situation.
He disclosed how ,Solomon Mwongyere, General Manager of ILCUF Ltd , a Credit Union body , was invited to talk on how to manage personal finances using the credit union model where journalists will be encouraged to own, use, control and benefit from credit unions adding that journalists can save and take credit at low interest rates.
Dilating on Self-Regulation, he said, public interest journalism depends on economic viability, independence and professionalism of the media admonishing how such is the road all should take now.
He said to support that path, the SLAJ Disciplinary Committee (DC) is now very active in promoting adherence the institution’s Code of Ethics.
“The Disciplinary Committee is now supported to do its work with the help of District Media Monitors across the country,” he informed disclosing how provincial trips were recently undertaken to appraise the work of the monitors and to hear cases of professional misconduct and threats against the work of the media.
He also talked about how an Annual National Media Awards will be done during the course of the meeting to recognize excellence and promote professionalism in the media sector.
The President expressed his wish for SLAJ, Freedom of Expression and the Press to live long.
Other speakers, including the Mayor of the Makeni City Council, Sunkarie Kabba-Kamara, Paramount Chief Bai Shebora Kansangha11, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Solomon Jamiru, the representative of the European Union Delegation, the Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Dr Victor Massaquoi and the CEO/MD of UBA Sierra Leone, Usman Isiaka, who delivered the keynote address, among others underscored the important roles the Media plays in fostering good governance, in deepening democracy, holding those in authority accountable. They also stressed that for the media to effectively play those roles it must be independent and therefore the importance to device viable means to maintain sustenance as opposed to become heavily dependent.
After deliberations in the auditorium other activities held included Panel Discussions bordering on the theme, the unveiling of artistic drawings of past Executive Presidents of SLAJ, deceased and those alive including the current one, male and female football matches, Muslim and Christian thanksgiving services.