Sierra Leone News: SLAJ is a Beacon of Democracy
By Desmond Tunde Coker
The newly elected President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla has on Thursday August 15, 2019, took office after peaceful handing over ceremony by his predecessor Kelvin Lewis, who served as president of the Association for six years.
The handing over ceremony, which attracted public officials and media practitioners, was held at the British Council auditorium in Freetown.
In his statement, former President Kelvin Lewis said, “Today I am really proud for what we have achieved and what Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) has become; and today we have become beacon of democracy.”
He said that some of the critics during his term helped him and the executive to do more. He added that criticism is the motivating force of progress, “and for me I took those criticisms in good faith”.
Mr. Lewis said that there are lots of sacrifices made during the period but however thanked his family who stood behind him during sleepless night, traveling to the provinces and various places. He mentioned that during his term as president he has the opportunity to me with different presidents.
“I am very happy today because I am handing over to somebody who is trustworthy, know how to move the association to another height,” he said.
While speaking on behalf of government, the Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Swarray registered government’s commitment in repelling Part Five (5) of Public Order Act 1965.
He said that, there are reforms that are ongoing within the media landscape.
He said that are lots of media houses that are not paying their spectrum fees and also flouting the media regulations. “We will not allow such to happen; that is why government is regulating them, but will allow free press as committed by President Bio,” he said.
President elect Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said that it has been an honour, a privilege and quite a special experience working with former president for the last three years.
“Kelvin thank you for your kind mentorship and for putting this landmark ceremony together,” he said. “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.”
He further thanked the general membership for voting him as their president. While thanking his campaign team Team Monk, he starched olive branch to Team Mustapha Sesay for 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 assured that you are an integral part of my administration,” Mr Nasralla said.
“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,” he said.
“Historically, our priority challenge is twofold: 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,” he said. “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.”
He said, “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,” he said.
The SLAJ president urged all practicing journalists, as well as public relations officers, who are not yet members of SLAJ, to come under the umbrella body when they announce the notice for new intakes. “We will reconstitute our Disciplinary Committee and give them the necessary support to be proactive, efficient and effective,” he said.
Mr Nasralla said, “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 organizations/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.”
He cautioned 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,” he warned.
He called 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,” he said.