By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
The Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (EC-SL) and partners including ECOWAS, European Union and Germany Cooperation, yesterday Monday, June 6, commenced a-two-day training for journalists on elections reporting.
The training, which aim at promoting peace and security, is taking place at the Mamba Point Lagoonda Hotel, and it brought together media practitioners from major media houses in Freetown.
Head of Democracy and Good Governance at ECOWAS, Dr. Eyesan Okorodudu, said ECOWAS was concern about the reportage during elections hence they were engaging journalists in the West Africa Region to ensure that news content is well reported.
He said during the 2018 elections, they conducted such kind of training but was not nationwide, nothing that this time around they will be doing same training in the regions of the country.
He said the purpose of the training was to ensure that journalists do not develop non-violence contents but develop those that promote tolerance, build peace and security.
He said they were also looking for ways to engage social media influencers to ensure that they give out the right information that promotes peace and security during elections.
European Union Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Manuel Mueller, said the media is essential to democracy and that in a democratic state media elections are possible with the presence of the media.
He said a free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices.
He said media act as a crucial watchdog to democratic elections, safeguarding the transparency of the process and a democratic election with no media freedom, or stifled media freedom, would be a contradiction.
He said the media in Sierra Leone can rejoice increased freedom, as the legislation criminalising libel and sedition has been repealed in 2020.
He stated, however, that whilst laws and regulations guarantee fundamental freedoms essential to democracy in order to fulfil their roles, the media need to maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage, as well as access to the Electoral Management Bodies to receive relevant information for the public.
He said objective and politically neutral media reporting play a critical role in preventing and addressing fake news, inflammatory speeches and suspicions around the electoral process, while a cordial relationship between the media and the Electoral Management Bodies contributes to the delivery of peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible elections.
He said the training has been conceived with the dual purpose to empower media practitioners with knowledge and tools that can foster accurate electoral reporting, and enables to strengthen relationship between the media and the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone.
He called on the Chairman of the Elections Commission of Sierra Leone to establish good working relationship with the media, noting that it is important for a mutually reinforcing cooperation between the election management bodies and the media in the delivery of peaceful, transparent, inclusive, and credible elections.
“The media is a key asset to democracy. It plays as a watchdog to ensure process are transparent and legitimate, as well as an educator providing cizenry with critical voter information,” he said.
He said the IMC was established in the aftermath of the conflict to reinforce Sierra Leone’s democracy, noting that the European Union welcomes the recent legal reforms which have reinforced the mandate and independence of that noble institution
He called on the Director of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Cooperation that an uneven playing field can have a devastating impact on democratic competition, noting that the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation has a critical responsibility in ensuring a level playing field and that they count on the institution to allow equal access to all political parties as required by law.
German Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Horst Gruner said for a long time, regular elections have been established as the norm for the transfer of political power in West Africa, unlike in many countries in Africa where the press is experiencing uncertain realities and Sierra Leone stands out in a positive way in freedom of expression, including for members of the press, is generally respected.
He said since the post-conflict elections in Sierra Leone in 2002, elections have been a valuable tool for social change, for inclusive governance and for peace, noting that no doubt that with stronger inter-party cooperation and a positive role played.
He said the media is educating voters and creating awareness that could make elections more credible and the media’s year- long involvement in election work undoubtedly improves accessibility to election-related information and impacts positively on the country’s electoral system.
Oversight Commissioner, Media and Communications at Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, Zainab Umu Moseray said the name of the institution has not been good in the mouth of journalists, Civil Society organisations and others which is why the media practitioners training was very important.
She said the training will help journalists to be able to report professionally on electioneering process and promote peace and security.