The Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (EC-SL), through the European Union and Germany co-funded ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture and Operations (EPSAO) Project, implemented by GIZ, has concluded a two-day training for Media Editors and Chief Executives on election reporting to prevent violence ahead of the forthcoming general elections in Sierra Leone.
Held at the Sierra Palms Hotel, the training brought together about 40 Editors and Chief Executives drawn from across different segments (online, print, and electronic media) in Sierra Leone.
Facilitated by the ECOWAS Democracy and Good Governance Division (DGGD), in collaboration with the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (SL), the Independent Media Commission (IMC) and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ), the training is conducted in recognition of the important role of the media during elections, as well as the importance of good and mutually reinforcing cooperation between the media and national election management bodies in the delivery of peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible elections.
In attendance were the Resident Representative of the President of ECOWAS Commission in Sierra Leone, His Excellency Harouna Moussa, representatives of the European Union, German Embassy and SLAJ.
In his opening remarks, His Excellency Harouna Moussa stated that there is no other appropriate time better than this for such a training to be conducted targeting media personalities. He disclosed that as the country will soon hold multi-tier elections the role of the media in ensuring credible, free and fair elections cannot be overemphasized.
He underscored that as gatekeepers the media can play the role of overseeing the entire electioneering period and ensuring that best practices are followed.
The Resident Representative maintained that in this Social Media age it has now become evident that some use it to spread incendiary messages as well as for disseminating fake news and misinformation that are very misleading.
While highlighting the dangers that this new phenomenon poses, he pointed out that the role of media practitioners in fact checking and countering such fake news and misinformation is very key in sanitising the political landscape.
He expressed the view that the knowledge that the participants will acquire will better equip them to practice their profession professionally through balanced and objective reporting of political events as well as giving different political parties and candidates equal opportunities to disseminate cogent political messages in order to ensure fairness.
The Resident Representative concluded by underscoring the need for the media to sensitise the public on the negative effects of involving in political violence and the penalties that await perpetrators of violence.
Before declaring the training open, the Chief Electoral Commissioner and Chairman of EC-SL, Mohamed Kenewui Konneh, in his keynote address stated that he is very happy and delighted to address participants during such an auspicious engagement with Chief Executives and Senior Editors of Media Houses.
He disclosed that the agenda is loaded with topical issues which he believes are very relevant and timely further expressing hope that at the end of the engagement all will do due diligence in their respective institutions and media outlets.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner thanked the organizers for the engagement and for bringing important personalities together. He furthered that ‘Media and Communication’ is one of his flagship’s programmes at the Electoral Commission disclosing that when he took over in August 2020, he set out an agenda to restructure the institution in order to meet with current trends.
He informed how the Strategic Plan 2020-2024 electoral cycle was at the formative stage and they, therefore, had the opportunity to include media and communication as a standalone department adding also how they set out to develop a Communication Policy and Strategy to be the framework for their media engagement.
“We also hired a media and communication specialist to drive this agenda,” he told an attentive audience.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner stated how the Commission, through the support of GIZ have trained journalists right across the media landscape of this country adding that they have redesigned the Commission’s website plus having a very robust twitter account and social media platforms to engage the public.
Mohamed Kenuwei Konneh revealed that they have also signed MoU’s with SLBC, ITV and 98.1 FM Stations from where they engage the public.
He said with the advent of social media and difficulties around regulating that sector, misinformation and disinformation have thrived over traditional media adding that there seems to be a huge task in the implementation of any regulation and coupled with hate speech it has put a huge gap in the industry of cybercrime bill.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner expressed hope that there is going to be discussions on a lot of those issues including opportunities and the way forward for managing media related issues around electoral process, dealing with hate speech and its implications on national peace.
In his attempt to define Misinformation and disinformation, the Chief Electoral Commissioner stated that the latter refers to false information that is spread with specific intent of misleading or deceiving people.
According to him, it is sometimes confused with misinformation which he said generally refers to false information, regardless of whether or not it is intended to mislead or deceive people.
In attempting to answer the question of what is its effect on the electoral process, Mohamed Kenewui Konneh stated that Disinformation is more dangerous because it is “frequently organized, well resourced, and reinforced by automated technology.”
According to him, Disinformation can cause a crisis which in any event, issue or situation threatens to undermine the relationships or any event, issue or situation with negative consequences.
He told participants how Disinformation can have serious consequences for social media users, as it can lead them to believe false or misleading information which in turn can cause them to make bad decisions based on that information or to support conspiracy theories.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner cautioned Media outlets and news sites to be careful about sharing disinformation saying it can damage their credibility.
Suggesting ways of minimising/stopping disinformation he said there are a few things that can be done including fact-checking before sharing information, punishments instituted by Government through laws enacted by Parliament that punish those who spread disinformation.
He also recommended for Media outlets to take measures to prevent disinformation from being spread on their platforms adding that one should be skeptical of what one reads online and on social media stressing that not everything one sees is true.
Checking sources to make sure that the information one is reading comes from a reliable source was another suggestion he proffered.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner concluded by expressing the view that Disinformation is often spread to influence people or to create chaos and cautioned against sharing disinformation stressing that if one sees disinformation, one should not share it as sharing disinformation can make the problem worse.
He also advised participants to educate themselves about disinformation and how to spot it saying the more one knows about disinformation the easier it will be to spot it.
Earlier in the programme, representatives of the European Union, German Embassy and SLAJ delivered Goodwill Messages.