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Sierra Leone | Media Ethics

THE CULTURE OF "BROWN ENVELOPES" (i.e. corruption and bribery) among journalists, media ethics, women in media and the challenges to maintain journalistic values in election reporting were key topics for more than 30 participants during a two-day conference in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in mid-November.

The upcoming national election in Sierra Leone provided a hot topic for the participants from all over the country.  Coordinator of the Independent Radio Network in Sierra Leone, Ransford Wright, highlighted the role of the media as a key stakeholder in the upcoming election, together with the national electoral commission.

“Media has a key responsibility to make sure that people are well informed to make the right choice of leaders. People need to know their politicians and all the relevant facts about them,” said Wright, who also is the CEO of Believers Broadcasting Network.

“The two topics about 'brown envelopes' and media ethics spurred strong involvement and loud discussions among the both Christian and Muslim journalists attending, with an impressive openness and willingness to hear each other’s arguments,” said Dr. Arne H. Fjeldstad, CEO of The Media Project who sponsored the event.  He also spoke at the seminar on the importance of key global journalistic values.

Tonya Musa, media consultant and lecturer at Fourah Bay College in Freetown highlighted the need for every journalist to understand the context of a story and give a balanced and fair presentation of any story.

“Journalists always need to remember to present the two or more sides to every story, present the facts as they are, avoid judgments and bias and strive to be neutral,” says Musa.

He also emphasized the need for journalists to factor in a diverse set of concerns before publication, like the public interest, safety, moral sensitivity, sensationalism leading to chaos in addition to the standard concerns of objectivity, fairness, accuracy, etc.

A key concern raised in the discussion was the general presumption among the public that a journalist covering a story always were in favor of the opinions raised.  The need to emphasize the journalists role as “always skeptical and critical to all parties involved” as well as avoiding to mortgage ones credibility by accepting bribes and shying away from the relevant critical concerns were highlighted among the journalists review.

Also the need to present more opportunities and more gender equality for women journalists were highlighted in a speech by Mrs. Willette James, veteran journalist and gender specialist.

Tonya Musa also challenged the participants to be transparent about the widespread practice of “brown envelopes” among journalists. Salaries are predominantly very low, USD $60 – 80 a month, if anything at all. Knowing that the living cost in the capital Freetown easily can be ten times as high or more, most need additional income to make ends meet. 

Several participants said the two day conference was very much needed and gave new impulses to journalists in Sierra Leone:

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