By Rev. Wilfred Leeroy Kabs-Kanu
Journalism is one of the most noble of professions. It is so noble that it requires noble men and women to practice it . Journalists are the focal point of society. The monumental task of regeneration and cleaning up of society rests in their hands. And given the perversity of today’s society, it is not an enviable job . But the work has to be done and only men and women of probity, of unquestioned moral character, honor and patriotism can truly be journalists in any society.Men and women who waver with truth because they have either bound themselves to the establishment through gifts or established ties with the rich and powerful and the governors of society cannot be effective pursuers of the ideals of independent and patriotic journalism.
Therein lies the respect that both journalists enjoy at the moment. Whatever their detractors say about them, they are among the breed of Sierra Leone’s journalists that deserve econiums for their steadfast devotion to writing it as it is, regardless of whose ox is gored. When one considers how the profession has been invaded by the hawkers and money-changers Christ drove out of the Temple , the opportunists and bootlickers with their own personal agendas and the infirm of moral worth looking for cheap popularity and acceptance, you appreciate that Sierra Leone journalism is still blessed by the presence of these two.
What happened between the two leading journalists should not be allowed to fester , because this will bring bad blood to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists ( SLAJ) ,an organization that has found its feet at last , after all the problems of its formative years. Both journalists and their supporters should note that as is said in our local parlance : Teeth and tongue do clash. The only relationship where clashes do not occur at all, for all times, is one where one or more people are zombies. Once man has the freedom to articulate his views or take an independent stand, conflicts will arise once in a while. There is no human society where controversy does not arise once in a while. The important thing, though, is the manner that conflicts are handled when they arise. God himself realised that and that is probably why his word enjoins : “Be ye angry but let not the sun go down on your anger ” (Ephesians 4:26)
From all that has been written by other journalists, it is a fact that Neville and David Tam-Bayo chose the wrong forum to address the question of the quest by President Kabbah to grant honors on the SLAJ President. I think they should have appraoched the SLAJ President in close , personal counsel or within the close council of selected, trusted and respected association members. The two gentlemen do not seem , to me, to be pursuing hidden agendas. It is my considered opinion too that journalists should be cautious about the way they receive national honors from the establishment. While it is true that Korthor I.B. has performed his duties of a citizen and a journalist admirably, caution should be exercised by him and those who share his ideals in accepting gifts and honors at this time from the government.
President Kabbah too may not have bad intentions for seeking to honor journalists at this time. He may have good intentions for grant honors on Korthor I.B a fine gentleman and a hardworking icon of Sierra Leone journalism but it is just a fact that in certain positions, there are ethics that must be followed and we must be careful how we receive certain gifts and honors. When not given or received with the right motives, gifts and honors have the potential to pervert a noble profession, still the voices of patriots and undermine the cause of a profession .
Journalists are like preachers of the gospel. Their very essence and worth depend on their capacity and moral will to continue to proclaim the truth. Show me a preacher who loves to receive honors , praise and gifts from his society and I will show you a Man of God whose ability and moral will to proclaim the truth has been seriously impaired. Gifts have the ability to bind their receivers . The Word of God in Deuteronomy 16:19 is specific about this . ” Thou shalt not accept person nor gifts: for gifts blind the eyes of the wise, and change the words of the just.” .Possibly what Neville and Bayo fear is that if Kargbo receives Kabbah’s honors, he will become blind to the mistakes of the SLPP government or change his rhetoric and passion on the Yansaneh case. A preacher who receives gifts from fornicators and adulterers in the church will, for instance, deny himself the levity to preach against these sins in future for fear of offending those he had received gifts from in the temple.
However , that does not mean that we cannot accept gifts. It all depends on the giver and his motives for giving them. If there is any iota of belief that a gift would bind and it would hinder one’s ability to speak the truth , it should not be accepted. In this case however, it looks like this is a national honor–not a gift, per se- that President Kabbah desires to bestow on a worthy journalist to demonstrate the nation’s appreciation of the travails and national endeavours of journalists in Sierra Leone. The honors are meant for I.B. not SLAJ , if I got my facts right. When President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia sent $500 to certain media houses for Christmas, the gifts were rejected because their motives were unclear and they were not meant for particular individuals. In this case, the motives for the honors are clear .Kabbah may be saying: “I.B. Kargbo has done much to promote good journalism in Sierra Leone and it is time to recognize him nationally.” I don’t think such honors would stop a journalist from executing his duties impartially. What is more, the honor is not from Kabbah, per se. It is from the nation because the President grants these honors on behalf of the nation.
With the level of democracy being attained in Sierra Leone, it is not right to think that Kabbah is providing these honors to get something in return. Isn’t Kabbah on his way out ? Also, I.B is the head of the country’s journalists association, but he does not have control over how newspapers operate and what they write. Nor does I.B. alone hold all the aces in deciding the battles that SLAJ would love to fight. SLAJ can still fight the government on the Yansaneh issue.
Kargbo and Neville cannot afford to have a hostile working relationship. They must let reason prevail and harmonize this problem now. As long as we live on this earth, the teeth and the tongue would clash but the important thing is not whether conflicts will arise but how we handle them when they come.