The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists has on Saturday 5th June 2021, commemorated its 50th anniversary at the Galliness Paradise Hotel in Bo.
According to the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Mr. Ahmed SahidNasaralla, SLAJ was founded on the 5th June 1971.
“Mr. Chairman, within the next 24 hours SLAJ will be celebrating its 50th anniversary since it was founded on 5th June 1971,” he noted.
He went on to say that 50 years is a time for us to take a deep breath and also take an introspective look at ourselves and also dream of where we would want to be in the next 5, 10, 15 and 50 years.
He adds that this is why they have chosen the theme, “Looking Inwards, Looking Outwards: Towards a Strong, Accountable and United SLAJ, and a Free and Professional Media”.
“I am sure my colleagues are well fired up to articulate their thoughts, when we settle down for our in-house deliberations, today and tomorrow,” he said, adding that it has been 50 long years! Indeed, stressing that we have come a long way and we have arguably played our part in the development of the country.
The media, he said has led the fight for democracy in the country. He went on to say that it was our opposition to the planned imposition of a one-party rule in the 1960’s which led to the enactment of the Criminal Libel Law. He said that Journalists were thrown into jail, adding that but that did not stop us to hold our leaders to account. Through sustained pressure from the media, he said President Joseph SaiduMomoh (late) agreed to bring back multi-party democracy in 1991.
Sadly in that same year, he said the rebel war started, adding that the war compromised the military, the police, the civil service, the politicians, and when the government ran away to Guinea the media became the only opposition. He described the media as the last man standing. The media, he said led the fight back against the rebels.
He went on to say that the story is the same for Ebola, adding that the media led the fight by steering sensitization and social mobilisation drives.
“We dominated the airwaves and the pages of our publications with Ebola messages. We produced messages of hope and direction, and we saved lives. When all were exhausted, we used the Yellow Ribbon Campaign to drive home through the last mile,” he said, adding that when the flooding took place at Kroo-Bay the media was there to tell the stories and mobilise help for the victims.
Again, Mr. Chairman, he said that when the mudslide took place at Mortormeh, it was the local media who alerted the world that something bad had happened in Sierra Leone. Indeed, he said that we kept the story alive until help came. Again, he said that the media led the response on the COVID-19. The media, he said has been in the thick of the campaign.
Apart from sensitization, he went on to say that the media have fought against hate speech and fake news. Unfortunately, he said that citizen journalists have encroached into our space, and it is another new normal that we have to deal it.
“Mr Chairman, the contribution of the media did not only stop at reporting on wars and natural disasters, we have also been key political influencers. Together with key Civil Society players we staged the first ever very successful political debate, where the top six presidential candidates were presented to the populace to choose who they thought was fit to rule them. We dispassionately grilled them, probed and enquired about what they had to offer, he said, adding that we have every reason to celebrate. He said that the association has moved from the days when they begged journalists to become members of SLAJ, adding that we have moved from where SLAJ was administered only in Freetown, in a small one-room office, to now where we have a fully operational National Secretariat and regional branches. He stressed that we have moved from where a conclave of few members will just decide over drinks who becomes the President of SLAJ to now where we have full-fledged democratic structures, processes and procedures to elect national and regional executives.
“Yes, indeed, Mr. Chairman, we have come a long way to now celebrating the historic repeal of the obnoxious Criminal Libel Law,” he said, adding that we have every reason to proud ourselves and to celebrate.