Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), with support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - under its Conflict Prevention and Mitigation during the Electoral Cycle in Sierra Leone project - has concluded a two-day workshop for journalists on 'Promoting Professional Media Coverage and Conflict Sensitive Reporting of the 2018 Multi-Tier Elections in Sierra Leone'.
The workshop was held on 26th and 27th January at the Madam Conference Hall in Makeni, Bombali District, attracting no fewer than 150 journalists, including newspaper editors and station managers from regional media houses across Sierra Leone.
Board Chairman of MRCG, Francis Sowa, said the project seeks to enhance and strengthen the skills of 500 local journalists, editors and station managers from regional media houses in Sierra Leone to provide professional media coverage and conflict sensitive reporting on the 2018 multi-tier elections.
Sowa said UNDP had over the years played a key role in providing training on elections reporting, ethics, the law and support for the coverage and reportage on the elections, adding that such supports had greatly improved the coverage and reportage of particularly the 2012 multi-tier elections.
He explained that the objectives of the workshop were to train journalists, editors and station managers in conflict sensitive reporting, enable them appreciate the need to engage in conflict sensitive reporting during the 2018 elections, increase knowledge and capacity of journalists in reporting electoral processes, including nominations, manifestoes, campaigns, voting, counting and announcement of elections, enable participants avoid publishing and broadcasting hate messages and fake news, and to expose participants to the ethical guidelines on reporting elections in the Independent Media Commission Code of Practice.
According to him, in a transitional democracy like Sierra Leone the media's role in the transition to peace and democracy was critical, whereas the nature of the media landscape in Sierra Leone, to an extent, underlines the diversity and relevance of the media.
"This relevance largely depends on the degree of professionalism, independence and resource capacity. On 7th March, 2018 Sierra Leone will conduct its next presidential, parliamentary and local council elections and the country's media have played integral roles in the electoral processes with specific reference to the 2002 up to the 2012 elections," he said.
He disclosed that coverage and reportage of elections by the media have not been done without attendant problems, noting that journalists sometimes face the challenges of understanding, covering and reporting on the electoral processes in a professional manner.
The chairman said the MRCG had held trainings in Kenema, Bo and Makeni and participants were drawn from all the regions to ensure cross-fertilisation, interaction and experience-sharing on the electoral processes specific to their areas.
"The rationale is to ascertain the issues, how they were tackled, the lessons learnt and the way forward. Our goal is to ensure that all functional media institutions (radio television, newspaper and some freelance journalists) take part in one of the trainings," he said.
The various topics dealt with by different trainers include: Covering and Reporting on Elections, Legal Framework on Elections, Conflict-Sensitive Reporting, IMC Guidelines on Elections Reporting, Hate Speech, fake news and social media, Reporting on Women and Persons With Disabilities, Managing Information and Expectations and Safety and Protection of Journalists.