A bird's eye-view of the media in Sierra Leone

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Ten years after the Windhoek Declaration was issued, the media scene in Sierra Leone is characterised by the absence of professionalism and lack of access to new information and communication technologies.
The situation is compounded by predatory attacks on journalists by unsympathetic government officials in a country under the throes of a 10-year brutal civil war.
Even before the advent of the civil war what existed in Freetown were mediocre newspapers, inconsistent radio and television broadcasts while magazines were non-existent.
The state-owned 'Daily Mail' newspaper was for long the torchbearer of the print media in Sierra Leone since independence in 1961.
Almost all the country's media personnel worked at the Daily Mail or the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service or SLBS radio.
However, a few intellectuals braved the tense one party dictatorial government of the late Siaka Stevens to launch a private newspaper around the mid 80s.
The names of Pious Foray and Franklin Bunting-Davis will forever be remembered in the country's media history for their ambitious, head-strong and single-handed endeavours to run 'The Tablet' and 'Shaft' newspapers, respectively.
The two were frequent tossed into the maximum security Pademba Road prisons as they pursued their career in spite of the constraints that then faced independent newsmen.
Few brave lawyers made any successful attempts at rescuing some of the poor independent journalists from the grilling tentacles of the state apparatus.
The national radio and television nose-dived into oblivion by the mid-1980s due to the appalling socio-economic and political situation, as well as the "don't-give-a-damn" attitude by President Siaka Stevens towards the media.
Around this period barely 10 percent of the 3 million inhabitants were able to view television once or twice a week.
The radio dished out a lingering two-hour broadcast per day for only about half of its national audience.
Even the Daily Mail resorted to sporadic appearances as funding dried up and its workers were unpaid for months.
By the late 80s, both the radio and television were virtually non-existent although the Daily Mail struggled to maintain a foothold amidst stiff competition from mushrooming independent newspapers.
Several private newspapers hit the stands of Freetown in the early 1990s under the government of Gen.
Joseph Saidu Momoh, whose regime did not care about media critics.
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists or SLAJ was then created to monitor journalists and help in improving the condition of journalists through training and maintaining ethics.
As is the case in most developing countries, the majority of SLAJ members were male journalists even though a few women were instrumental in the association's creation.
Among these was Ms Daisy Bona who co-published the Citizen newspaper that became a leading newspaper in the country by 1991.
SLAJ however succeeded in opening up training opportunities for a couple of its members and was duly recognised by the ministry of information and broadcasting.
Among the unprofessional habits SLAJ combated was the soliciting of bribes by reporters (commonly referred to as 'Coasting') and impersonation.
SLAJ was also involved in negotiating for reductions in the prices of newsprint and other printing materials.
The prices charged by printers were so high that most new papers were obliged to give up publication.
However, Momoh paid less attention to newspaper criticisms and ordered less arrests and intimidation against pressmen in the country.
The independent newspapers took advantage of this to champion the cause of the masses on a number of issues.
This quickly catapulted the independent newspapers into prominence as symbols of liberty and freedom of expression in the country.
The private electronic media has also made valuable contribution to the media scene in Sierra Leone, particularly "FM 98.
2 radio" which helped the ousted government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to broadcast messages from an unknown destination while a military junta and rebels of the Revolutionary United Front held power in Freetown.
FM 98.
2 played an instrumental role in Kabba's reinstallation to power as the legitimate ruler of Sierra Leone months later.
The creation of a school of journalism at the University of Sierra Leone in 1993 through the courtesy of the Nigerian government and a few foreign sponsors was the first major attempt to train qualified journalists locally.
Before then, most of those who ever had the opportunity to read journalism had gone to the Ghana Institute of Journalism, or in other journalism schools in the US, in Britain, Germany and in the Soviet Union.

03 may 2001 17:23:00

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