The SALT Manifesto
SLAJ Elections 2019
Presidential Candidate: Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
This Manifesto is in sync with the priority concerns of journalists in Sierra Leone.
When we visited media houses to declare my intention to run for president in the 2019 Elections, we engaged our colleagues and asked what their concerns were as practitioners and what kind of leadership they desired. What we have put together here is a manifesto which resonates with the feedbacks we got from the majority of journalists.
So, from those concerns, we decided to prioritise four (4) key issues that are close to the heart of every journalist in Sierra Leone: WELFARE, GENDER, MENTORSHIP and UNITY & INDEPENDENCE.
These are trying times for the media in Sierra Leone. Media houses are generally struggling to survive as businesses. Consequently, the welfare needs of journalists and their conditions of service are challenging and growing. This is also having an impact on the quality of journalism in the country. If we have to work towards achieving independent and professional journalism, we need to give full attention to the working conditions of journalists and the viability of media businesses.
I am very happy to learn that journalists have entered for and completed courses in various areas apart from Mass Communications. With their experience in the field they can use their disciplines to specialise for example in public health reporting, development journalism, peace and conflict reporting, environment reporting and business journalism.
My Executive will look at journalists’ welfare and working conditions from two angles: legal and economic.
On the legal side, it is against the law for employers to pay their workers below the minimum wage. The law also requires payment of tax to NRA and a social security contribution to NASSIT for their employees.
On the economic side, media houses argue that business is bad and that incomes don’t match expenditure. In other words, it is not profitable. This, they have linked with low advertising revenues (perhaps the lowest in the sub-region) and sales. For the top five to six media houses, it is estimated that annually they have to write off up to Le 500 million in unpaid advertising bills. With this situation and the over-reliance on traditional revenue streams, demanding improved conditions of service for journalists without a corresponding support to media businesses would be counterproductive.
While my Executive would not promise a quick fix solution, or resolving the welfare and media viability issues entirely, we would confront this perennial challenge in a holistic manner. We would do the following:
• I will encourage media owners to set up a Media Owners’ Association (MOA).
• My Executive shall bring together all the stakeholders (SLAJ, the Independent Media Commission (IMC), the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG, the Labour Congress, Ministry of Labour, WIMSAL, the Sierra Leone Reporters Union (SLRU), the MOA, relevant Government agencies and other partners) to begin an engagement process that would inform the next steps in addressing this challenge.
• We are aware of MRCG’s efforts in helping media houses set up structures that are conducive for the viability of the media. We wish to engage more and play a more active role to support these efforts. At the level of the MRCG, of which SLAJ and its affiliate bodies are key components, efforts are also already underway towards helping media houses in the area of professional management and resource mobilization to enable them be well structured and financially viable.
• My Executive shall deepen our engagement with the IMC. We shall work with the IMC to create a platform for the Commission to have conversations with the media and seek to understand the challenges and opportunities for ethical and professional journalism. I will work with the IMC to dedicate more time and resources to working with the media to understand and discuss their challenges and together find sustainable solutions.
• I will talk to debt recovery firms whose responsibility it is to go after debtors and recover monies owed to media houses. The process is safe, efficient, fast and it saves our colleagues the stress of hiring a lawyer to go to court. Most importantly, I will engage these firms to agree on a reasonable percentage fee they take on each recovery so that media houses get most of their monies back which otherwise could have left unpaid.
Beyond that, my executive will urge media owners to maintain a system within their organisations that guarantees payment for published adverts to ensure sustainability.
I recognize that gender inequality is a major challenge in media. While we acknowledge that discrimination, harassment and inequality on the basis of gender are not limited to the media, SLAJ must make it a priority to deal with these issues within the media.
This is why my Executive shall make gender a priority.
The media is male dominated; in terms of ownership and representation in leadership positions across individual media institutions as well as SLAJ and its affiliate bodies.
Out of a total of 546 members only 124 are women.
We see significant changes in the electronic media, but the print media still has a long way to go.
How many women do we have as Station Managers/Editors? How many women media owners do we have?
Women in the media suffer unequal distribution of assignments in the newsroom. The male reporters are given assignments to cover hard news while female reporters are given soft beats. Gender sensitive reporting in the media is low.
These are only a few of the challenges our female colleagues face, and my Executive shall ensure that:
• We work with our colleagues in WIMSAL and other pro-women groups to support our female colleagues to take their rightful place in SLAJ and in the media. While we do not have control over the employment policies of media houses, my Executive shall support efforts aimed at formulating policies that make the newsroom more conducive for our female colleagues.
• I will encourage media houses to adopt gender policies within management level and in the newsroom.
• We have among us not only practicing journalists, but also some of the brightest minds in media education and research. Some of them have done extensive research on gender in the media. My Executive will continue to put such works into use, organize events that popularize their findings and recommendations, while we continue to promote research, learning and conversations around gender because it is only when we educate ourselves that we would be able to change our mindset on discrimination based on gender.
• My Executive shall work with WIMSAL and other groups and organisations to increase training and capacity building on gender issues for women, but more importantly our male colleagues. If we are to tackle inequality, it is important that all are adequately educated and are on the same page. We will also increase access to training and other opportunities for women specifically.
• My Executive shall promote investment in and support for more females in the association and the profession in general. I will make as a centerpiece of my tenure the rebranding of the profession to be more inclusive and a friendly space for young females to aspire to.
• My Executive shall support affirmative action policies to increase the voices of females in the sector and to ensure that they can thrive. I will invest in reviewing policies, processes and opportunities that engender bias and discrimination and make sure we move towards a more gender equitable association.
• My Executive shall work to transform the way gender and women are reported and represented in the media. I will be a credible spokesperson and champion against rape and sexual violence and work to ensure that our colleagues have the resources and training to report on these issues with professionalism, and in ways that do no further harm to the survivors.
• My Executive shall set up a gender advisory panel that would comprise members and people from civil society to advise on gender and conduct periodic gender audits that inform the way we formulate policies. This panel shall also work to conduct training that would help our members cover women and girls better.
• I will work with WIMSAL and Media Initiative for Women and Girls Empowerment (MIWGEM) to complement their media school clubs as breeding grounds for women in the media.
One of the current realities in SLAJ is that over 50% of the membership is below 30 years of age.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge for SLAJ with regards ethics, integrity and professionalism. As a way of molding our young membership into a crop of professional journalists, it is important that we create a system through which young journalists can be mentored. It is no secret that before any formal systems of journalism education, journalists were recruited and trained through apprenticeship and mentoring. A lot of people benefitted from these apprenticeships and mentoring. Much as we want to encourage and support formal education, we also want to maintain this culture because it is an invaluable part of how we nurture our talents.
Training this next crop of journalists is therefore a matter of priority.
• My Executive shall work with the relevant partners - in journalism and education as well as media development organisations- to develop a mentorship programme for young journalists. Apart from the formal programme, my Executive would also work to pair young journalists with senior colleagues who shall volunteer their time to mentor the younger ones and advise them on matters related to their career.
4. UNITY & INDEPENDENCE
We are SLAJ because our founding fathers and mothers once came together in unity to form this legacy that we all enjoy and are so proud of. Therefore, unity in the Association and its affiliates is key in making us the potent pressure group that we are.
Unity, they often say, is strength.
• My Executive would work to ensure SLAJ remains one body after WINNING the forthcoming elections. We would ensure that after these elections, everyone feels like a winner.
• We shall initiate a process to bring our members together. We shall do this by reaching out and engaging various sections and factions. We shall work to address deep-seated issues that have left some people unhappy.
• My leadership will represent all journalists in Sierra Leone irrespective of their allegiances.
• While we work to strengthen our Union, we shall remain vigilant and vocal on national issues that affect us as journalists and the general public. We shall do this without prejudice, fear or favour.
5. REPEAL OF THE CRIMINAL LIBEL LAW
Every SLAJ Executive since 1971 has made the fight to repeal the Criminal and Seditious Libel Laws a priority.
Every Executive builds on the achievement of the previous. The outgoing Executive (of which I was a key figure) has taken a giant step in the repeal process which is now at Cabinet level. There’s now a clear light at the end of the tunnel. My Executive will take it up from there and finish this long and arduous race once and for all.
After the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, the public and the government will expect more from the media in terms of professionalism and responsibility.
That aside, there’s always the need for continuous training and professional development of our membership.
The main objective of my mentorship and training programmes is to ensure the next crop of journalists adopt high ethical and professional standards in their practice.
My leadership will symbolize professionalism and responsible practice. I will ensure discipline within the media. I will reconstitute and strengthen our Disciplinary Committee to be proactive, calling out the few errant journalists causing problems for the media. I will continue to popularize the SLAJ Code of Ethics and encourage every journalist to abide by its provisions. I will work with the IMC to do same with the IMC Code of Practice.
7. HONEST LEADERSHIP
My more than 18 years of practice has been characterized by sincerity, honesty, fairness, objectivity, integrity and respect for every colleague. I am bringing all of these values to the SLAJ leadership and I expect these to transcend to our young colleagues in their conduct as well as practice as I lead by example.
The SALT approach
The SALT (Stimulate/Strengthen, Appreciate, Listen/Learn and Transfer what you have learnt) approach basically targets mindsets of journalists and reinforces their roles and responsibilities with regards to responsible practice and the overall growth of the media.
As journalists, we must work with our institutions and structures to stimulate critical discussions, appreciate what we have, learn from our past and present and transfer knowledge that will benefit us all. It is because of this reason that my Manifesto is titled “SALT”. It is tasty and you will enjoy it with maximum cooperation.
With my leadership our activities as executives are aimed at bringing about increased awareness of journalists on their role in our democracy and taking self-initiatives to contribute and advocate for improved good governance in this country.
We will focus on the SALT approach to re-establish good and trustful interaction between the people and the government by working to fill pressing gaps in terms of national unity, patriotism and tribalism to enable the government and the people to address the challenges of this country.
The SALT approach will be used to change the mind-set of our journalists and our people and propel them to look at the glass as being half full and helping us gain a fresh understanding of existing problems and opportunities to resolve them.
As an institution, we are often not aware of our own strengths and powers of managing our own affairs and therefore struggle to improve on our welfare, professionalism and responsibility.
The SALT approach will help us look inwards and appreciate the power, resources and opportunities from within and utilize them for the benefit of all journalists. Hence my campaign sub-slogan- Powered by the power from within.
Together with my team, we can help us, the government and our people to identify and use our assets towards improving the lives of us all by releasing and nurturing our assets that are already there. In doing this, we will focus on only one thing: Ask crucial questions.
Long Live SLAJ
Long Live Sierra Leone.
I Thank You.