How do journalists go about reporting fairly and accurately- especially during crucial times like elections?
In just under three months people in Sierra Leone will hold elections.
The media will play big role during this time period.
That was why JHR and the Academia of Sierra Leone joined forces and held a public debate on “Conflict Sensitive Approaches to Media Reporting” recently in the country’s capital, Freetown.
I attended the program along with my JHR colleagues curious to hear what would transpire throughout the day.
The head of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sierra Leone, Memunatu Pratt was Chairperson. And the lead Speaker was Dr. Julius Spencer who has served as a Minister of Information during the Tejan Kabbah administration and now owns Premier Media-one of the leading media houses in Sierra Leone.
Dr. Spencer points out that some journalists tend to sensationalize reporting. Even the way someone uses words in a story can sway a reader he says. He also spoke of how sensationalized headlines can have an effect on how someone views a story. He says that can cause conflict between people and even result to violence.
Another issue he touched on was how some reporters tend to cover only press conferences where they get their transport paid and a lunch. As a trainer I have seen this firsthand. And it ‘s something I try to discourage journalists here from doing. Or at least if covering a presser get other voices as well to balance out the story and put a human face to it. But as one person from the audience pointed out during the debate, many journalists do not get paid on time and some not at all. And they have to stay until the end of the presser to get their money and by then they are close to deadline and have to get back to file. Plus, when you have to put food on the table- what are you supposed to do? And that’s a solid point too and another thing I have witnessed. Many journalists here also pay for their own transport and cell phone calls for interviews.
One comment that came from several people throughout the day was the lack of actual journalists who attended. Perhaps they had too much on their plates already that day with looming deadlines. So I decided to seek out a journalist who did make it, Mohamed Wurie to see what he thought.
He agreed with much of what was said during the debate, “Most journalists are not paid by media houses,” he says. “Most just do programs when they get transport paid.”
But he adds that he is hopeful and positive some attitudes will change. He says the debate was worth having because it was a lively and thought provoking discussion. And even if only a few local reports are done it’s a step forward.
I think that is an important fact too. And I think that it’s always good to keep a conversation going and discuss how to move forward and improve on a craft.
No steps are too small.