For eight weeks, 17 journalists from various newspaper and radio media outlets attended the 2012 Human Rights Election Workshop Series, hosted by jhr and sponsored by UNIPSIL – the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone. The goal was increase their knowledge of human rights reporting during the 2012 General Elections, the third since the end of the civil war.
Forty-seven stories were produced by workshop series participants. There was a wide range of approaches to human rights reporting during the elections.
Some of the stories looked specifically at how human rights would be impacted during the election period. One subject that received significant attention was the access – or lack of access – to a tactile ballot system that would allow voting for the visually impaired. This year, those who could not see the ballots would require the use of a confidant. Workshop participants interviewed politicians, the National Elections Commission, disability rights groups and of course those with visual impairments to bring this human rights concern to the public forum.
There can be no doubt of the significant amount of tension felt going into these these elections. It was the third since the end of a devastating eleven-year civil war. Past elections have been marred by violence both during and outside of wartime. Reporters at the Journalists for Human Rights Workshop Series took on the responsibility of creating stories that focused on issues-based journalism, as opposed to inflammatory partisan propaganda.
The overall lesson plan was to build a strong foundation of human rights reporting in local media during the elections. The lessons covered human rights topics, as well as general election reporting techniques to build stronger stories.
The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society also hosted a two-part session on emergency first-aid and reporting safety to better equip those working on the sometimes risky front lines of journalism.
The result was a peaceful election, and a greater coverage of human rights issues in the media. The election was hailed as being, for the most part, free, fair, and transparent. Journalists throughout the country contributed to this success by holding politicians responsible for improving the lives of citizens they hoped would elect them into office, and make promises to improve human rights in their constituencies. Hopefully this milestone in the country’s history will lead to a greater awareness and action for human rights in the next five years.