The workshop was held on the 10th and 11th December 2018 at the New Brookfield Hotel, Jomo Kenyatta Road in Freetown.
In his opening remarks, H. E. Ambassador Tom Vens said that the workshop is organized to share knowledge with the media on how to effectively communicate issues coming from Parliament. He further said that the media is playing a decisive role in the development of societies, with a view to ensuring that human rights and democracy can prevail, adding that the workshop would help to strengthen the capacity of journalists in their approach to cover and report accurately on the work of Parliament. “Today’s workshop focuses on the work of journalists in Parliament which is the place where democracy shows its true nature in action; it is where different, usually opposing political parties’ debate on policies and laws for the development of a country”. He also said that the outcome of the general elections in March is one of many colors and parties, which makes reporting for the media more interesting, but also more difficult, whilst hoping that the training will help journalists to gain a better understanding of how Parliament works and how to access legislative information.“We depend on what you are doing to keep us as diplomats informed,” Ambassador Vens revealed, adding that journalists should provide citizens with information, by creating public space for debate and exchange, with a to holding institutions and those who wield power to account by reporting independently and professionally on things that go wrong.
HE, also emphasized on the need for freedom of the media in doing their work, especially freedom of speech which is a fundamental precondition for journalists to play their part in an open and democratic society, adding that it is against this backdrop that the EU welcomes the intention of President Bio to repeal Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965 relating to seditious libel.
The Head of Department, Public Relations in the Parliament of Sierra Leone, Mr. Sheku Lamin Turay thanked the EU for sponsoring the two–day workshop at a time when the press gallery needs it desperately. He stated the Sierra Leone 1991 Constitution and the Parliamentary Standing Orders allow the press to report accurately on parliamentary proceedings, devoid of malice or otherwise in want of good faith. He also called on the participants to take the training in good faith, since they will be trained in media ethics and understanding procedural reporting in Parliament. Mr. Turay said in furtherance that the Public Relations Department is always willing to give continued capacity building to members of the press gallery, hence the development of a Media Relations Policy in line with the thinking of the Leadership and Administration of Parliament to accredit journalists reporting the Parliament of Sierra Leone.
The former Clerk of Parliament, Hon. Ibrahim Sesay welcomed the participants and thanked the EU for such a venture. Hon. Sesay said the relationship between the press gallery and the House of Parliament has been good so far as there is cordiality. He encouraged the press gallery to avoid being biased and partisan in their reporting. Hon. Sesay also did a presentation on understanding parliamentary procedures and practices. He encouraged journalists to be specialized in certain areas of parliamentary reporting to enrich their reportage. He said there are about 31 committees including health, finance, education, whilst pleading with the administration of Parliament to ensure they provide journalists the necessary trainings for the realization of specialized reporting. He also called on the Public Relations Department to not only accredit journalists that are sent to Parliament, but to also ensure that only accredited media institutions by the Independent Media Commission are worth consideration.
Hon. Ibrahim Sesay also urged journalists to understand parliamentary procedures and practices, whilst complaining that most newspapers are not effectively covering Parliament. He enlightened that a bill is a legislative proposal. He added that pre-legislative briefing gives opportunity to other stakeholders to give input to a bill for better understanding. He further urged journalists to always pay attention to the memorandum of the object and reason which is usually attached at the back of any bill, adding that it must be signed by a minister or a private member. He further revealed that the ‘Mace’ is a symbol of power, and it has used since time immemorial as a weapon to defend the Speaker.
The international facilitator from Malawi, Wisdom Nelson Chimgwede said that this is his first time in West Africa and Sierra Leone in particular welcomed the participants and applauded them for choosing such a noble profession. He said, as journalists, their key tools are balance, accuracy, and objectivity. Mr. Nelson also intimated that all journalists are advocates, lobbyists, and informants. He said in effective parliamentary reporting the journalist should know that reporting starts from the primaries and the awarding of symbols during the electioneering period. He called on the journalists to be very pro-active and ‘dig deeper’ beyond what is discussed on the floor of the House. With the advent of the new media, journalists must be prepared to conduct research on “news behind the news”. In lecturing on the topic ‘building effective relationships between MPs and the media, Mr. Chimgwede said that such relationship is all about trust, accuracy, and professional reporting. He called on journalists in the press gallery to know that they are reporting political communication; therefore it is easy for MPs to tag them. He therefore called on them to use their professional and ethical skills to write good and generally accepted articles.
In his presentation on media ethics and dealing with the ‘brown envelope’ syndrome, Francis Sowa, Lecturer at the Mass Communication Department, Fourah Bay College (FBC), said that ethics is concerned with the basic question about what is right and wrong, and that it involves the character and conduct of individuals and institutions. He added that ethics are set of principles to determine what is good (ethical) and what is bad (unethical) in human conduct. He thus emphasized that journalists should read and internalize the Independent Media Commission’s Code of Practice. “It is your Quran and Bible of the profession,” he informed. He added that journalism is rooted from ethics, and media organizations and newsrooms have long promoted ethical codes with similar standards. He intimated that adherence to those codes has often been held up as a sign of legitimacy. He said that journalists are also expected to comply with the Copy Rights Act and the Anti-Corruption Commission Act because they have laws relating to the media. He informed that the Independent Media Commission (IMC) is planning to urge media owners to improve the welfare of journalists in the country.
Sowa further cited Nkwocha, 2004, defining that ‘brown envelop’ is the money given to reporters or editors to persuade them to write positive stories or kill a negative story, adding that the name is derived from cash inducements hidden in brown envelops and given to journalists during press briefings. He suggested among other things that media institutions should invest resources into news gathering activities particularly in places like Parliament, embark on effective media relations instead of unethical lobbying, adding that private and public institutions should provide vehicles to convey journalists to the venues to cover news/press conferences.
“Get the opinions of our constituents, and make it known to us for effective representation”, Hon. Sama I. Sandy urged the journalists. He said that MPs rely on them to make their voices heard, and to help the public to monitor their activities.
The president of the parliamentary press gallery, Mr. Hassan Y. Koroma said that Parliament made no mistake in recognizing the press gallery to help in the dissemination of information on the activities of MPs and Parliament. “Regardless of difficult times, we have been working side by side with MPs and Parliament,” he said. He also said that poor condition of service is one of the main reasons for bad journalism in the country. He advised that journalists should always and genuinely ask themselves whether a particular story would not hinder the image and reputation of an MP before publishing. He urged some MPs to stop tagging journalists as those of the All People’s Congress (APC), Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), and the like. He thus encouraged MPs to change their perception about the media in light of political alignment. He said capacity building is among the immediate steps of improving media coverage and reporting on Parliament.
Hon. Sirajin Rollings-Kamara said that he had enjoyed a cordial relationship with the media, adding that they make their work comfortable regardless of few isolated cases. “I always want to seek and advocate for the welfare of journalists,” he said. He supported the idea of accrediting journalists before having access to cover and report on Parliament, but disapproved the habit of branding journalists as APC or SLPP’s journalists.
Hon. Catherine Zainab Tarawally advised journalists to be careful when reporting on parliamentary activities, adding that they should not compromise any situation because of monetary inducements. She opined that journalism is good and bad based on the character and conduct of journalists, holding the view that bad journalism is one of the reasons why MPs are tagging journalists with political parties. “Until we effectively tackle the problem of colorization of journalists, we would not enjoy the media in Sierra Leone,” she opined.
Participants were advised to specialize in reporting Parliament. They appreciated EU and Parliament for organizing the workshop, promising that they would use their skills to effectively improve their relationships with MPs, with a view to effectively cover and report on Parliament.
The workshop was witnessed by the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), former President of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and other staff of the EU and the Public Relations Department of Parliament.