In the context of discipline, it is not only about moral etiquette but it is also about quality, the packaging, rebranding, posture and the looks, said Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) Marcella Samba Sesay.

 She said: “When we talk about media discipline, I think this is what it entails and so it is not only about mediating conflict but also about ensuring that the media present itself as a force to reckon with.”

Marcella was speaking as the Vice Chairperson of the newly constituted SLAJ Disciplinary Committee during a complaint hearing and meeting with Regional Executives of the Association and representatives of national media groups at the SLAJ Headquarters in Freetown on 1st May, 2020. The meeting was organised by the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) with funding from NED.

The CGG head reminded journalists about the change in dynamics in the media landscape and the need to understand that it is only important that within this change context, they are able to find a niche and situate traditional media effectively. Society, she said, has a lot of hope and aspirations on this crop of people who should be able to bring credible, timely and valuable information on a daily basis.

The tools of the trade have also changed and keep changing, she said.

“We also need to understand that we should be able to practically use available tools in modern day to empower this work we do. Despite the fact that we are talking about traditional media, the modes, patterns and ethics that we have been used to five/ten years ago are no longer the same because they have changed tremendously. We need to position ourselves to these changing dynamics,” said Marcella.

According to Marcella, society has moved from that traditional space as the media is now seen as being able to take a frontline and engage government on critical issues bordering around the state because they are in possession of the requisite information.

The media, she said, need to use such information to influence policy and to facilitate the desired change society needs.

“We are actually playing a private role and so if we are part of ensuring that we support this media discipline, I think this is the way we want to go,” said Marcella.

Conflict, she said, is inevitable as people will become agitated and there will be issues to resolve.

“Other than that, we want to accompany the media in an era of growth which is want we want to do as a team. We want to ensure that when we look at the Sierra Leone media landscape, we would be able to say within this period, we were able  to grapple with critical issues and there have been men and women of substance who have risen to the occasion,” said Marcella.

On behalf of her institution, CGG, she thanked the leadership of SLAJ for given her the opportunity to collaborate with the media.

“The work we do is advocacy, fostering a cohesive society and equally so changing the behavior pattern of individuals. So without effective collaboration with the media, it’s almost impossible to achieve our goal in our campaign,” she noted.

Their campaign, she added, uses predominantly the spaces that are available to reach out to the public.

“If we are collaborating with the media, it is important that we collaborate with a professional entity; an entity that is able to stand the test of time, shape society and for which citizens can get trusted information from,” said Marcella.

Other members of the Disciplinary Committee present at the meeting were Abubakarr Sheriff Esq. and Lucy Ann Ganda.

Sheriff Esq., who is the Secretary of the Disciplinary Committee, said the wheels of change in SLAJ are moving rapidly and they, as committee members, are pleased to be part of that.

The role of journalists, he said, is enshrined in the 1991 Constitution and ‘it is a statutory mandate as part of our civic responsibility as citizens’. But in playing that role, he said, there has to be rules and regulations.

“We already know that by way of statute, there is also the Independent Media Commission. I know what it means to be an editor and journalist in this country; the challenges are too many but as professionals we have to strive to do the right thing. We are not coming with cane in our hands to flog our colleagues. I would say this is not a censorship but it is part of the processes of self-regulating ourselves. We all know the draconian libel laws and the earlier they are expunged, the better for all of us,” said Sheriff Esq. adding that the Committee will not work alone but will journey together with media practitioners and media groupings towards ethical and professional journalism.

Earlier, the Chairman of MRCG, Dr. Francis Sowa, said since the election of the new SLAJ Executive there have been calls for enforcement of the SLAJ Code of Ethics.

“We should note the importance of this document that it is among the package for the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law. In other words, it shows our own seriousness that we are able to regulate ourselves. The best form of regulation is self-regulation. Today is a very important day that we are starting this complaint hearing session with all the executives of SLAJ and heads of other media organizations. I believe after today, the president of SLAJ would be in a better position to widely disseminate this code. This process today is sending a message to the wider community that indeed as journalists we are serious about regulating ourselves, which is why the MRCG, for which SLAJ is an integral part, with our little support through NED think it would be good to support a meeting of this nature because SLAJ is our own member,” said Dr. Sowa.

Furthermore, he said the importance of the SLAJ Disciplinary Committee is also related to the current situation at hand with COVID-19.

“We have started hearing complaints from the public about some media institutions in the way they even come out and report. Granted the majority of media institutions have done remarkably well. We consider this as a land mark event in terms of ensuring professionalism within SLAJ. I only hope that when we go back to our different organizations, we will let the other members know that the code exists,” he said.

Meanwhile, the SLAJ President Ahmed Sahid Nasralla thanked the MRCG for supporting the meeting and paid tribute to the outgoing Disciplinary Committee comprising of Joshua Nicol, Dr. Williette James and Mamadi Gobeh Kamara.

“The committee is now fully operational. We have strengthened its composition; before now we have only three members who were all from the association but following a resolution we had at our 2017 AGM, during which our membership called for reconstitution and strengthening of the committee, we agreed to co-opt two members from the public to make their own contributions because they are the core recipients of the product that we give out which is news and information. So we now have five members; three professional journalists and two members from the public. The Disciplinary Committee will now be supported by district and regional monitors,” said Nasralla.

All of this, Nasralla continued, is coming against the backdrop of the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law and one of the key concerns of parliamentarians is about the assurances that SLAJ will give to the public in terms of ensuring ethical and professional practice.

Nasralla said the SLAJ constitution provides for a DC that should help popularise and enforce the SLAJ Code of Ethics and maintain discipline within the Association.

Through a power-point presentation, Nasralla highlighted key sections of the Code and encouraged journalists to strictly adhere to them in the conduct of their trade at all times.