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Thumbs Up For Women In The Media Ė Sierra Leone (WIMSAL)
By A. Max Konneh, Heilongjiang, China
Feb 10, 2009, 17:29
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In most part of the world, media outlets, especially newspapers because of their close ties to the communities in which they publish, have begun practicing civic journalism, actively engaging the members of their areas in reporting important civic issues. It is an effort by the print and broadcast journalism to reach out to the public more aggressively in the reporting process, to listen to how citizens not least, deprived and vulnerable groups frame their problems and what citizens see as solutions to those problems- and then to use that information to enrich their newspapers or broadcast report.

Journalists should stand apart in making sound professional judgments about how to cover communities, but cannot stand apart in learning about and understanding these communities. For media to succeed in achieving this objective, all players in the profession must be given equal opportunities to discharge their duties regardless of sex, age, colour or regional affiliation

Study after study into sex roles in the media continue to show that women have a long way to go before their voices are really heard, either as guiding forces from within the news organization or as credible sources from without.

One of the primary challenges women face in the news business is the demanding and often unpredictable schedule. A survey conducted with women in 44 countries few years ago found that 64 percent said balancing work and family is their top obstacle.

With the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone, a number of print and electronic media have emerged, encouraging more people into the field as a means of safeguarding the peopleís fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, enshrined in the countryís constitution.

The department of Mass Communication of the University of Sierra Leone and several media training organizations continue to build the capacity of interested persons many of whom are women in the profession. Like their male colleagues, women in the media in Sierra Leone continue to play a vital role in the development of journalism in the country. Sadly, even though their participation continues to gain wide interest from their viewers, listeners and readers, their inputs remain minimal due to what many have referred to as marginalization and poor conditions of service.

A large number of them are restricted to presenting and reading news, reporting only issues on entertainment, fashion, culture and arts rather than engaging in mainstream newsbeats. As a result, a good number of these trained and qualified female journalists have sought employment from companies, commercial enterprises, government parastatals, and NGOs, where conditions of service are comparatively better.

Determined to face some of these challenges, members of one of Sierra Leoneís astute and development-oriented groups of female media practitioners, Women in the Media, (WIMSAL) have however started thinking out of the box, venturing into new areas of endeavour.

The organisationís on-going campaign against prostitution, drug abuse domestic violence, child abuse and other vices in collaboration with one of the nationís celebrated female artists, Lady Felicia is not only viewed as a direct response to social responsibility theoryĎs call for meeting the needs of the various communities and desperate groups that make up our society but also as a form of interactive journalism, where the media actively engage people from all walks of life in the creation of the stories and reports they develop. For this, I doff my hat to them.

But, can WIMSAL do this alone? The answer is a big NO! Pop star, Lady Feliciaís description of prostitution, drug abuse, child abuse etc, as prevalent social problems that need urgent action is an established fact that cannot be over-emphasized.

Therefore, all efforts must be made to enable WIMSAL attain its desired goals. Government, local and foreign NGOS, commercial entities and philanthropists must financially and materially assist the organization implement its programmes. Talking about the shrinking number of female journalists in the media is one thing. Helping women crack that glass ceiling is something else entirely. Efforts should also be made to bridge the widening gap between them and their male colleagues who continue to dominate the profession.

Training programmes focusing on building practical skills, risk-taking, conflict resolution, career mapping and communication skills must be held to promote the full participation of female journalists in the profession. Media organizations should endeavour to improve the conditions of service of their staff as well as appointing qualified female media practitioners to higher and influential positions.

Also, women in the media must strive to remove the phobia associated with some assignments they perceive risky, challenging and demanding rather than behaving shyly. I believe these will not only enhance efficient service delivery but will also attract more interested women into the profession. I am also quite confident that what award-wining war correspondents, Christine Amanpour of CNN and Elizabeth Blunt of BBC have done, female journalists in Sierra Leone can also do if given the opportunity.

Sierra Leone can proudly boast of an appreciable number of accomplished female media practitioners whose diligence and invaluable contributions to the development of media have earn them laurels and enviable positions nationally and internationally.

It is for this reason that I recognize the following:- Daisy Bona, former president of SLAJ, Josephine Hazeley of BBC, Gina Banda-Thomas, former Director General, SLBS, Violetta Luke-Decker, formally of SLBS, Bernadette Cole of IMC, Josephine Kamara, former presenter of SLBS and VOA, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, Publisher of Awareness Times News Paper, Evelyn Langba, former Senior News Editor, SLENA, Hannah Fullah of Radio Democracy, Marian Samu, former Press secretary, State House, Betty Foray, Press Attachť to the Sierra Leone Embassy in USA, Mariama Coker, Press Attachť, M.R.U, Williet John of the Mass Communication Department, USL and late Tony French and Glena Forde.

I hope this group of celebrated and dedicated female media practitioners will serve as an inspiration for up- and Ėcoming women in the media.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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