Inaugural Speech by President Elect of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ)

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Date: 15th August, 2019 Venue: British Council Hall Time: 7 pm— Colleagues, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Good evening and thank you all for witnessing this very formal handing over ceremony and presentation of awards by SLAJ.

Let me first and foremost say a big thank you to the outgoing Executive, especially the three that are actually going out, President Kelvin Lewis, Vice President Sammy Haffner and my former Assistant Sulaiman Stom Koroma. It has been an honour, a privilege and quite a special experience working with you for the last three years. Kelvin thank you for your kind mentorship and for putting this landmark ceremony together. I am sure, as our constitution prescribes, you will continue to provide the guidance we need as we try to settle and pursue our goals.

I think I am also privileged that while I have taken the highest position, three of my colleagues were re-elected to their same positions in the current executive. Governance, they say is about continuity. Continuity with the good programmes. Your re-election is testament of your hard work and determination to push SLAJ forward. Let us continue with that same attitude and teamwork.

Now to you the general membership. Thank you again for voting me in as your President.

#TeamMonk a big thank you. All those who supported my candidacy from both within and without, I thank you. I assure you again of my resolute but accommodating leadership. Together we are going to deliver. We must deliver!

To #TeamMustaphaSesay, I say well done. Thank you for your participation in this year’s elections.

Thank you for also testing the democratic credentials of our beloved SLAJ by petitioning the processes and outcome of the election. I believe there are lessons to be learnt and which we will take note of going forward. Be rest assured that you are an integral part of my administration.

Now the time is finally here. It is time to roll-up our sleeves and buckle our boots. Let’s get to work. The challenges ahead are many but we are determined. We’ll listen; we’ll consult and we’ll engage.

Historically, our priority challenge is two-fold: The first is to accomplish the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law. We are encouraged that our determination seems to be in sync with the political will of the leadership of the current Government of Sierra Leone. But so it was again with the previous government.

Nevertheless, it’s time to take off from where we left. This is our first task. We have to finish this before another national elections’ looms.

The second historical challenge is to ensure responsible practice across the board, even with our politically motivated colleagues.

We have a program on Mentorship and Training. We will knock on as many doors as possible for support in the area of general media trainings, specialized trainings, capacity building and sustainability for our membership and their media houses. We will work with the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College to support us develop training formats. We therefore urge all practicing journalists, as well as PROs, who are not yet members of SLAJ to come under the umbrella body when we announce the notice for new intakes. We will reconstitute our Disciplinary Committee and give them the necessary support to be proactive, efficient and effective.

We acknowledge the new challenge with social media- WhatsApp and Facebook, especially. We’ll cooperate with the Government of Sierra Leone, other media stakeholders, CSOs and other well-meaning organisations/institutions to initiate steps to address this huge challenge. We insist on continued national education on the responsible use of these new media platforms and the benefits there in for the nation as well as all of us. However, in the meantime, we encourage our colleagues to apply the same professional and ethical ethos provided in our Code of Practice and the IMC Code of Practice on any media platform they ply their trade. We want to caution our colleagues, and the general public- especially the so-called citizen journalists- that the seditious laws, criminal libel laws and the civil defamation laws (in fact the whole of Part 5 of the infamous Public Order Act of 1965) are applicable on social media as well. So be mindful with your exchanges on social media; be careful with your opinions, your posts, what you culled and what you share.

To our Regional Executives, our affiliate bodies- SWASAL, SLRU, WIMSAL, SLCRA, PPG- we want to strengthen your modus-operandi and ensure responsible leadership, accountability and transparency right across. We urge you to re-organize and come up with fund raising initiatives to keep you active throughout your tenures.

The Guild of Editors and Radio & TV Station Managers we also urge you to wake up and take your rightful place as Gatekeepers of the media. You should be setting the agenda for national discourse.

When you are strong, SLAJ becomes stronger. So we urge you all to stand up and let us work together to push our country forward.

We will work closely with the IMC, NATCOM and MRCG. Together we will sit down with the media and try to understand their challenges and collectively find amicable and practicable solutions. But first of all we call on all media houses and our colleagues to respect these statutory institutions that were established to regulate the industry.

Meanwhile, we call on Government to continue to support the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, strengthen its regional offices, improve the capacity and welfare of its staff, and give it the independence of a true public service broadcaster.

At this point, let me note with great concern that finance is our biggest hurdle to efficiently administer SLAJ and support our regional executives and affiliate bodies. The only way SLAJ can get money, apart from membership dues which are meagre, and the Government subvention which we have started receiving, is through grants or projects. We will have to apply for grants or write project proposals and seek funding.

So we call on every SLAJ member to come onboard and volunteer their services to our beloved association and ensure it maintains its respect, integrity, credibility and public trust. This is the spirit of our SALT Manifesto. We will look inwards and appreciate what we have and use that to our advantage.

I thank you all.

 

Long Live SLAJ

Long live Press Freedom

Long live Sierra Leone

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Abu Bakarr Tarawally is a Journalist based in Freetown. He works for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation as a radio producer. He has once served as Editor for a few newspapers in Freetown, including Sierra Express Media, The Exclusive Newspaper and his own newspaper, the Daily Express Publications. He is a teacher trainer, and loves writing and reading a lot. Email: abstarawally@gmail.com. Call +232 88601277 or +2327661303.

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