The term “corruption” has always been synonymous with power. Some believe that corruption is simply about authority plus monopoly minus transparency. Power has been known to attract the corruptible. But when that power is absolute, then it becomes a field day for the absolutely corruptible. It is unquestionable that “all institutions are prone to corruption and the vices of their members”. Eduard Shevardnadze once proclaimed that “eradicating corruption is not enough to sustain a country”. However, any attempt to rid a country or a people of corruption should be applauded by any well meaning citizen of a country.
Journalists of all colour, creed, or political persuasions do tend or attempt to uphold the bastion of anti-corruption; and in their defence of the realm and the public, they can aspire to expose every hint of such a disease. The sad truth is that although their readers tend to get a frisson of joy from the process, half of them tend to block it. But that should not in any way dampen the enthusiasm and integrity of journalists from seeking the truth. As a citizen, one does not take pride in admitting that Sierra Leone’s economic malaise is a concomitant effect that has degenerated into the quagmire of pervasive corruption. That is the painful truth that we have to grapple with on a daily basis and it has been the albatross that has dogged all political regimes past and present. The recent “Timbergate affair”, “the Lord Mayor’s show”, the “Nassit ferry me across the water” are just few of the high profile cases that have gnawed the consciences of all well meaning Sierra Leoneans; a prescription that has proved too bitter to swallow.
One of the lasting hall marks of the Koroma Government was the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission. The fact that this was one of the first undertakings of the current government could be seen as the President’s way of diagnosing this cankerworm that has been gnawing the fabric of the society. There may have been similar attempts by previous governments in the past, but identifying this arm of government as one of the flagship organisations could be seen as a bold step. Although the success stories of this organisation have done little in comparison to the enormity of the task to eradicate corruption, it goes without saying that “as long as some people have learnt to shoot without missing, others will learn to fly without perching”. The rat race will always continue. But that should not be an excuse not to chase the rats. When people fight corruption, corruption always fights back.
That brings us to the ongoing saga between the head of Anti-Corruption Commission and one of the most trusted newspapers, Sierra Express media. Its readers have been treated to a running commentary on the life and times of Joseph Kamara, bringing it under the microscope for public scrutiny. Allegations of corrupt practices have made the headline news. Ineptitude, egoism, abuse and misuse of power etc. have all become the adjectival currency of these commentaries. There is no doubt that public officials are subject to public scrutiny. However, such scrutiny must be met with its weight in gold from a public interest standpoint.
This piece is in no way intended to protect, defend or insulate the corruptible or indefensible. But in attempting to expose such alleged (just had a word with my attorney) corruption, the journalist is expected de-personalise the exposure to do more justice to the feat. Journalists tend to succeed in maintaining their objectivity if they can avoid being emotionally entangled with their given topic. Any attempt to expose corruption in all its forms is laudable; but when such attempts descend into personal attack, it becomes easy to see how the currency of credibility is devalued. Journalism can be great way to do a public service; which should be measured by the quality of the information and not the drama or pyrotechnics associated with it.
Being a public figure, it is conceivable that aspects of Joseph’s morality can be subject to scrutiny; but those questions tend to emanate from a supposedly “heartbroken” Khadee Sahid Kamara among others, who “ called to reveal a bitter love story, which began in 1998 ending in 2006 in a bad tale” (SEM, 13th. May), “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” comes to mind. If Khadee S. Kamara is described as “heartbroken”, her apparent readiness to “kiss and tell” leaves little to wonder as to the motive of the whole exercise. A similar article stated that “we in the news making realm understand (sic-that) personalities make news”. This is partially correct in that, personalities make news and journalists should report and not make them.
Some of us have never had the privilege to dampen the walls of journalism, but certain tenets of this noble art should be held sacrosanct by its purveyors. These include: be objective, offer balance, don’t censor, report the facts, don’t be nasty, don’t write in a stream of consciousness and don’t believe everything and above all, have fun. This is no attempt to lecture anyone on journalism, but like many of us have noticed in the Sierra Leone media, the tendency for reporters to get carried away usually gets the message “lost in translation”. It is sad that the dichotomy among media outlets is now drawn along political party lines and vested interests. One clue that always gives the game away is the irresistible urge for journalists to be vitriolic in their personal attacks. It is a sad state of affairs whereby declaring yourself for a political position is bound to draw the sword out for personal attacks. It is now considered criminal to be in opposition. The irony is that, it is the same journalists who masquerade as high priests of democracy and free speech that try to stifle the very DNA of democracy.
Reporting or investigating corruption is manna to any journalist, but when an element or a seed of personal attacks and vendetta are sown with the need for justice, the lines get blurred and readers are left with more questions than answers; “some were questioning why Joseph Kamara should be news material in our publications” (SEM, May 14th.). There you have it. A case in point is the question as to why Khadee Sahid Kamara “called to reveal a bitter love story, which began in 1998 ending in a bad tale”? The question many readers would want to know is whether such a prominent paper has been used by individuals as a shoulder to cry on, or as a combustible proof that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? By implication, are we saying that the end of a love affair is tantamount to making someone unfit for public office?
I recently read an article stating that funding for the ACC has been withdrawn by the DFID. A source revealed recently that the ACC received Le 800.000, 000 to support core operational activities until 2014. There is no doubt that as a renowned paper, SEM should, to all intents and purposes investigate corrupt practices of people in places of authority. Equally, such feats must be guarded against the temptation to reduce it to personality attacks. A recent article indicated that “scoop journalists are mustering plans to lay wrath on its Editorial Team in defence of some persons they think SEM has been exposing”. That should not deter the paper from pursuing such “lofty” ideals. Nevertheless, the paper should not allow itself to wallow in the cesspit of yellow journalism as evidenced by others. When Sierra Leone received kudos from the Corruption Perception Index, a German based anti-corruption group in 2010, SEM was there to shout to the roof tops about such giant strides. It is only natural that any impropriety should be met with the same vigour. However, such feats should be conducted within the sphere of transparency and justice. In years gone by, it was unthinkable for journalists to tackle some of the issues that are being touched on today. Attempts to tackle high placed officials always ensured a few weeks’ “rest” at the Hotel Pademba. Thankfully today, a new found freedom, though not perfect is found in the country. Unfortunately, some people are trying to put a commercial value to this and have become praise singers, literary griots and literary thugs in their endless search to peddle what passes for news. SEM stands to do a good job, but every attempt should be made to avoid that temptation; a feat that puts it above the rest.
When you have a newspaper headlined “Exposing the back…..of Tam Bayoh”, the nauseating taste is rank in the mouth. This is coming from a newspaper that is expected to instil morals and simple decency into the public’s psyche. To think that such a headline is coming from an arm of the fourth estate which is supposed to “represent the views, voices, and cries of the ordinary man, as rightly quoted by SEM is plain reprehensible. SLAJ president, Umaru Fofana recently admonished journalists to take caution with the media code of practice, as the trend of reckless journalism is misrepresenting the image of Sierra Leone on the international stage”. Umaru’s recent comments are indicative of the state of journalism in the country. It will be naive to tar every paper with the same brush. But with many papers jostling for a seemingly saturated news market, it is conceivable that while some will endeavour to manufacture the news, others will try and sensationalise the little they have with all the pyrotechnics associated with its drama. The fourth estate owes it to the people, so keep it real.