Independent Media Commission media training - Ms. Mia Seppo, UNDP Sierra Leone Country Director

01 Nov 2011

Statement by Ms. Mia Seppo, UNDP Sierra Leone Country Director on behalf of the Executive Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations

Mr. Chairman,

Commissioners,

Members of the forth estate,

I’m making this statement on behalf of the ERSG who unfortunately is out of the country at the moment.

Let me start by once more congratulating the new Chairperson, Commissioner Rod Mac-Johnson on his appointment, and also thanking the out gone chairperson, Mrs. Bernadette Cole for laying the foundation of this unique institution, a foundation upon which succeeding Chairpersons will build.
 
The media has an indispensable role in supporting democracy, good governance and peace. The media should be the watchdog, the guardian of the public interest, and a conduit between governors and the governed. Unfortunately, the media is sometimes used as a proxy in the battle between rival political groups, in the process sowing divisiveness rather than consensus, hate speech instead of sober debate, and suspicion rather than social trust. In these cases, the media does not play its role but instead contributes to public cynicism and democratic decay.

Democracy requires the active participation of citizens. Ideally, the media should keep citizens engaged in the business of governance by informing, educating and mobilizing the public.

Recognizing the key role that the media has in democratic governance, the UN, in partnership with others, supports the Independent Media Commission (IMC) to monitor and enforce the Media Code of Practice as well as training of journalists in professional and unbiased reporting.

I would like to acknowledge the German government through her representative in Sierra Leone for having provided the funding for this particularly component in the election ‘Basket’ managed by UNDP, part of which includes the support to this two-day training that we are witnessing here today.

Why is the training important?

  • In many new democracies, radio has become the medium of choice, as it is less expensive and more accessible;
  • In Sierra Leone where illiteracy is so high, radio is listened to by 82% of the population, men and women;
  • More people get their news and public information from radio than any other medium and the numbers are rising.

What is the link between the IMC and the UN?

  • The IMC was set up in 2000 by a Parliamentary Act and its role is to promote a vibrant, independent media landscape. It can also sanction cases of abuse and in some cases impose fines and even revoke licenses;
  • Under the UN’s Joint Vision for Sierra Leone, the UN has committed to supporting what’s known as ‘democratic institutions’: the Anti-Corruption  Commission, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Media Commission, NEC, PPRC the Human Rights Commission;
  • On the one hand the IMC has the important role of oversight. On the other hand, media professionals like yourselves have an important role to play in ensuring impartial and accurate reporting throughout the electoral cycle. The UN believes it’s important to support both the oversight role of the IMC and capacity building of the media.

Why the emphasis on electoral reporting?

  • Sierra Leone is having its third post-war elections in 2012. The complex 2012 electoral process – presidential, parliamentary and local council elections with a possible presidential runoff  and the new technology used for voter registration to increase the credibility of the voters register - is seen as a test of the national institutions involved, including the media.
  • Voter turnout in the 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary elections was 76%; turnout for the 2008 Local elections was only 39%.  People tend to vote when two factors converge: when they understand, on the one hand, their rights and responsibilities and have enough information to vote; and when they believe, on the other hand, that their vote will count and make a difference. Therefore, there is a dual role for the media: 1) unbiased election coverage and 2) being a medium for civic and voter education. The media should, by playing this dual role, enable the citizens to make informed choices, as emphasized in the Guidelines for the Coverage of Political Party Activities and Elections in Sierra Leone. 
  • You will need skills in many areas: such as interviewing techniques, ensuring fairness in information release, distinguishing between hard and soft news stories, researching the story, archival material sourcing, avoiding sensationalism, preparing fair headlines, covering the results, understanding electoral law, understanding local district council laws, releasing results, spotting opportunities, and bribery. No one expects you to become election experts, but as media professionals you are expected to know where to go for information to get your facts rights.

Media and female candidates

  • The highest decision making bodies are overwhelmingly dominated by males. You have a responsibility in ensuing media coverage that does not reflect the old biases on the role of women and youth in society. How women are portrayed in the media and if the political environment is made safe for women determines if they can take their place whether as voters or as candidates. That is why the IMC will be asking you to consider over the next two days what you can ensure that the voices of men and women are equally heard.

The role of the media in promoting peace

  • Stakeholders in Sierra Leone seem to agree that misinformation campaigns and politically led personal attacks launched by some media (newspapers, in particular) had a considerable impact on the security of the 2007 election environment. Events of March 2009 led to the banning of two political radio stations. Looking beyond Salone, events in Rwanda and Kenya show how irresponsible partisan radio stations can incite violence.
  • Far from being inciters of violence, I know that many of you have taken up the burden of peacemaking in the communities you serve and we pay tribute to your dedication to play this role.
  • I commend the IMC for taking this bold but necessary step and bringing you all together for this important workshop. 
  • Make these next two days count for you and your respective communities as we begin the countdown to 17th November 2012. I wish on behalf of the ERSG and UNDP to formally declare this two-day training program open.