In the wake of the inaugural West Africa Journalism Innovation Conference 2023 (WAJIC 2023) in Abuja, Nigeria, the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, has raised an alarm over the crisis facing journalism in West Africa.
Nasralla called for collaboration between media development bodies, journalists’ unions, relevant institutions, and even governments to safeguard press freedom, ensure journalists’ safety, and strengthen civic space to uphold democracy, rule of law, and human rights in the region.
Addressing participants in the conference during two panel discussions on ‘Regulations and Spaces for Press Freedom Advocacy’ and ‘Media in West African Elections: Observation, Reporting and Polling,’ Nasralla emphasized the impact of digital and social media on traditional media, which has led to a loss of authority in content creation, gate-keeping, and setting the agenda for public debate.
Nasralla highlighted the rise of citizen journalism and the challenges posed by the reliability and credibility of information shared by ordinary citizens.
He also pointed out the emerging threats to journalists from political supporters and traditional authorities in local communities, as well as the growing influence of partisan press, which compromises media solidarity on national issues.
According to Nasralla, the polarized political landscape in West Africa makes it difficult for journalist associations to act as moral guarantors and hold governments accountable. The increasing trend of state and corporate capture of the media also raises concerns about media independence and credibility.
Furthermore, Nasralla expressed concern about the economic challenges faced by media organizations due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, global decline in trust for traditional media, and the spread of disinformation and misinformation.
He stressed that the media’s vulnerability to financial influence from politicians and big businesses undermines its independence and professionalism.
The SLAJ President also raised issues about accountability journalism, emphasizing the need for media to hold both the government and itself accountable. He urged journalism bodies to fight for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression for every citizen.
While Nasralla acknowledged the cross-cutting challenges faced by media in the region, he pointed out some encouraging progress made in Sierra Leone concerning regulations, safety, and security of journalists, public interest media, inclusivity, media development, collaboration, and building partnerships and networks.
Nasralla, however, called for the revival of regional groupings like the West Africa Journalists Association (WAJA) to organize periodic conferences and publications that highlight press freedom successes, emerging trends, threats, challenges, and opportunities.
The conference shed light on the pressing issues faced by journalism in West Africa and provided a platform for journalists and media stakeholders to strategize and find collaborative solutions to safeguard press freedom and uphold democracy in the region.