By John Baimba Sesay, Information Attaché, China
Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China has said that without Constructive, Free and Independent Press in a democracy, it would be difficult for the three arms of Government (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) to effectively and appropriately perform their constitutional mandates. The media must be given ample space to operate freely and independently, though constructively professional. Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh made these remarks on Wednesday,25th June whilst welcoming a group of broadcasters: Alpha Amadu Bah, Fatu Kamara, Ibrahim Mansaray, Hawa Tucker and Zainab Kamara all from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC) who had gone to brief him on the outcome of a forty-five day long training they participated in, on Digital Media Technology. According to Ambassador Foh, the Government of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma has tremendous respect for Journalists and their profession. “Without media practitioners, watch dogs of our democracy, the three arms of Government may go wrong. From your constructive criticisms, society learns a whole lot and at the same time, government machinery is re-enforced.”
He spoke of how proud he was because President Ernest Bai Koroma is a respecter of Journalists. “For the greater part of his presidency, Media Practitioners are enjoying working in a free country. Ambassador Foh added “there has been no Prisoner of Conscience and the country now has more Media Houses and the highest number of Press Attachés appointed by the President to our Missions abroad. Ambassador Foh referred to a number of currently serving Ministers in Sierra Leone who were or still are Journalists. He referred to Hon Theo Nicoll Deputy Information Minister, Paul Kamara, Minister of Sport, Sheka Tarawalie, Deputy Internal Affairs Minister and some are Advisers to the President such as Hon Alhaji IB Kargbo. “This is very encouraging and indicative of President Koroma’s love and respect for the Profession.” When President Koroma was in Opposition, Ambassador Foh said, he committed himself to enacting a Freedom of Information law “and this has been done. I believe the President is committed to reviewing other enactments such as the 1965 Public Order Act”.
Speaking further, he said, he was “particularly proud that since President Koroma came into office, there has never been a Prisoner of Conscience. “The success of a country’s democracy could be measured by many parameters and Press Freedom is a principal yardstick of Democracy.” He assured the group that Government would continue to encourage Journalists to work in the interest of the country and be part and parcel of the Sierra Leone’s development efforts. Ambassador Foh also informed the group about efforts the Embassy has been leading in working with a Media related body in China, StarTimes who had expressed interest in working with the SLBC for its migration from Analog to Digital by 2015. He was hopeful, SLBC will not let go that opportunity “since we have had meetings with StarTimes, we have visited their facilities and we know they have the requisite skills and capacity a good job in Sierra Leone.”
Responding, Ibrahim Mansaray, on behalf of his colleagues, informed Ambassador Foh that as Journalists, they work closely with Government for the good of the country even though fair and constructive criticisms could be levied. Mansaray said, he was impressed by Government’s bold step to enact the Freedom of Information legislation in the country and also renewed calls for a review of the 1965 Public Order Act. “We believe as Journalists, that Libel should not be criminalized. We are therefore appealed for the Libel Laws to be reviewed”, he said. Briefing Ambassador Foh on their training session, Mansaray said, within forty-five days, they were able to learn a lot and were well equipped with knowledge on Digital Media Technology, whilst promising to put into practice the knowledge they have acquired during the training.
He expressed gratitude to the Government of Sierra Leone for establishing diplomatic and people-to-people relations over forty years ago, with the People’s Republic of China. Such a decision, he said, is today being felt through trainings and support China is giving to Sierra Leone in diverse areas. He also paid special tribute to Sierra Leone for playing a crucial role in ensuring china’s entrance into the UN as Permanent Member. He expressed optimism that more Sierra Leoneans will continue to come to the People’s Republic of China for further training and capacity building opportunities in other sectors. Mansaray ended up paying special appreciation to the entire Embassy staff for the time given them throughout their stay in China and “to his Excellency Ambassador Foh for taking time out of his busy work schedule to meet us”
The meeting was attended by staff of the Embassy, including the Deputy Chief of Mission, Madam Kumba Alice Momoh and Augusta Akibo-Jones, First Secretary/Ag.HoC and John Baimba Sesay, Press/Information Attaché. Development of media cooperation between Africa and China has been one of the major pillars of cooperation between China and Africa, within the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) framework. During the 2012 Fifth FOCAC Ministerial Conference in Beijing, both China and Africa agreed to continue with efforts aimed at enhancing exchanges and cooperation in Press and Media; encourage Press and Organizations of the two sides to step up objective and fair coverage of each other and intensify the communication of information on FOCAC.
According to the Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015), a China-Africa Press Exchanges center was to be established in China and the two sides were to promote exchanges and mutual visits between Chinese and African journalists and press professionals and support exchange of correspondents by their media. China committed herself, at the time, to share with African countries its experience and good practice in the digitalization of Radio and Television and provide support in personnel training and technology application.