Enhancing responsible journalism in Sierra Leone

Wednesday, 20 June 2018 15:28 Written by 


While Sierra Leone has made considerable progress in the consolidation of peace, democracy and its socio-economic development, the country's media sector remains confronted to low levels of professionalism and challenges to provide independent content. To scale up its ongoing media reform, Sierra Leone's most important media actors have established cooperation with Ghana as a pioneer on media freedom on the African continent. Collaboration has allowed to develop a national curriculum for media and journalism studies at Sierra Leone's main university and to set up a network of ECOWAS reporters.


Sierra Leone has made considerable progress since the end of the civil war in 2002, consolidating peace, democracy and improving development indicators amid rising rates of economic growth. Its media sector consists of a wide range of public and private entities and is considered as relatively independent. Nevertheless, ranked on place 85 (out of 180) in the World Press Freedom Index 2017, journalists face significant challenges because of a highly competitive market, where financing depends on the allegiance to political and economic interests. Many journalists have only limited training and cannot ensure an adequate level of ethics and professionalism. Especially during the recent Ebola crisis journalists were increasingly confronted to defamation charges.


Sierra Leone's Media Reform Coordinating group (MCRG), which brings together senior representatives from the country's most important media actors, was established in 2014 and is in charge of facilitating the reform of the media landscape to ensure increased independence, higher ethics and professionalism based on the right of freedom of speech. Supported by UNDP and UNESCO, MCRG overviews and implements an ambitious programme to strengthen responsible journalism. Amongst many objectives, this includes the passing of a media bill and the enhanced recognition of freedom of the press in the National Constitution. It also implements a National Media Development Strategy, provides trainings to journalists, enhances alternative media systems, such as community radio networks, and is working on the establishment of a Centre of Excellence within the Mass Communication Department of Sierra Leone's main

university ("Fourah Bay College"). This is in line with the country's Media Development Strategy which was developed and launched on (World Press Freedom Day) 3rd May 2014. To scale up this reform, representatives have established cooperation with Ghana which is ranked No.26 in the World Press Freedom Index 2017 (before countries such as France and the USA). Ghana has a stable legal framework to ensure independent and free exercise of journalism. Its journalism is characterized by a high degree of professionalism and operates without significant restrictions. The development in the media landscape has been a result of the widening of Ghana’s democratic landscape since 1993. The media has benefitted from strong civil society movements and organizations that have taken advantage of the democratic space to champion the call for the liberalization of the airwaves which has led to media pluralism. Again, the media has collaborated effectively with state and non-state actors to discharge its role as the fourth estate of the realm. For instance, in the 2016 General Election, the National Media Commission the regulatory agency for the media in Ghana partnered with the National Peace Council to sensitize the public on the need for peaceful elections. Similarly, some media houses are working with anti-corruption agencies to tackle the menace of corruption as well as the illegal small-scale mining known in Ghana as ‘Galamsey’. In May 2014 a media delegation from Sierra Leone visited Ghana and interacted with main media agencies such as Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Ghana Institute of Journalism, African College of Communication, UNESCO, Ghana Network of Community Radio Network and West Africa Media. Exchanges touched upon Ghana's experience to establish a free and high-quality media sector and how the sector contributes to democratic dialogue, accountability, peace and development through its high standards of professional ethics. Delegates agreed to establish joint activities/projects and to enhance the collaboration between the Mass Communication Department of Fourah Bay College and the University of Ghana, especially to ensure the upgrade into a full-fledged Centre of Excellence. Therefore, the Mass communication curriculum at Fourah Bay College was reviewed and the development of over 100 undergraduate media/journalism courses, three track Masters degree

programmes, and a doctoral programme in Mass Communication (under the leadership of a resident professor) was launched. PhD research projects are pursued in the areas of Strategic Media Management, Media and Gender, Media and Democratic Governance, Social Media, African Communication Systems. Furthermore, an association of Communication, Journalism and Media Educator (ACJEM SL) has been established to support to roll out the reviewed curriculum as a national curriculum for media and journalism studies in Sierra Leone. The exchange also led to the signature of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Sierra Leone Media Reform Coordination Group and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), based in Accra, Ghana. In the meantime, the two partners have conducted a survey on media coverage and reporting on ECOWAS in Sierra Leone. Following the training of a cross section of journalists in Sierra Leone the ECOWAS Reporters Network in Sierra Leone was established.

Supported by: UNDP

Implemented by: Media Reform Coordinating group (MRCG


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