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COMMENTARIES : Moiie's Column  

Rumour Mongering and Misinformation in the Press
By Ambassador Morikeh Fofanah
Jul 29, 2005, 07:07

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It now appears that Sierra Leone has got a non accredited University that offers degrees in Rumour-Mongering, Political Hardcore Destruction (PHD) and Pull Him/Her Down (PHD). Lectures are given free of tuition charges as long as the student portrays and practices his profession obtained from URMSL (University of Rumour Mongering in Sierra Leone).

There is no age requirement to the URMSL. Infact preference is given to Swegbehs, Urchins etc. and those with Pan Body Mentality (PBM). Patriots and nationalists are not admitted infact they are vehemently refused admission.

Moiie’s Column is here to raise awareness on this growing cancer. Let us start with a recent programme aired on Radio UNAMSIL where it was categorically stated that the South African Electricity Company (Eskom) was not going to follow up on the proposal to help Sierra Leone rehabilitate the electricity sector. Well, Eskom actually arrived soon after this declaration was made over Radio UNAMSIL. One begins to wonder if Radio UNAMSIL is here to ameliorate PEACE or set to fuel DISACCORD in our hard won peace. We would have thought that the presenter would have first contacted State House Lodge, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry of Energy & Power or the Ministry of Information, before airing the news on such a sensitive topic.

My personal opinion is that Radio UNAMSIL is in the habit of interviewing dissidents and the like over their airwaves without cross checking with the de jure authorities thereby creating embarrassment for the Government.

I am now asking Radio UNAMSIL to please look once more at your job description as an increasing aroma of mystery hangs over your activities.

Now, let us look at the Sierra Leone Press in general. The Press, once a renowned, vibrant encyclopaedia into which students and researchers delved for information, is again on the curve of change. This change has been made possible with the ushering in of our hard won democracy that now allows for greater press freedom. The efforts by media organizations such as, the Thompson Foundation, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, PANOS, the Mass Communications Unit set up at Fourah Bay College during the Kabbah Government and even the efforts of the journalists themselves and the Independent Media Commission must be appreciated.

However, the dissemination of unsubstantiated stories as news broadcasts and the lack of cross-checking of information by our institutionalized media organizations cannot be disassociated from the significant role that gossip (congosa) and rumour mongering (den say) has in third world and developing nations as ours. This phenomenon has had its share on state matters many a time. In the eighties, the infamous libelous report published in Freetown which claimed that late President Samuel K. Doe had murdered his wife, brought a temporary border closure from the Liberian side. It was high level intervention by the two governments that finally resolved the matter.

Most rumours are based on illusions, misinformation and sometimes utter lies.

Misinformation, especially over the airwaves, spells lethargy and an outright disregard for media ethics. In such a small country where we all can easily contact each other, a radio discussion programme should be postponed if a key person is unavoidably absent. This will greatly reduce the chance of listeners getting a one sided look at the issue under review.

The absence of one party in the discussion of an issue affecting that particular party will tempt the available ‘other side’ to resort to giving out presumptions and malicious lies to the public. The practice of journalism is not the place for such complacency and/or sensationalism. It is a sacred profession. If we do not uphold the basic ethics of the profession, we risk having an adage being affixed to journalism –one similar to the Davidson Nicol/Bailor Barrie rhetoric of old.

However, without resorting to the use of adages, I will safely say that there have been hidden snakes behind some rumours. Misinformation over the airwaves has been pivotal in the way the masses reacted at certain periods in the country. This has been especially so after cruelly cynical and distasteful radio talks shows that only sent out hate stigmas.

In all democracies, but especially in new democracies, the role of the press is a component that is as essential as the concept of democracy itself which perambulates around "For the people, Of the people and By the people."

It would do our nation’s journalistic flavour a wealth of good to grasp ad finitum that press freedom is an art embodied in the concept of democracy. It is a real art and not just a flippant phrase.

For decades, after the break down of our communication institutions, Radio and TV, people listen to BBC, VOA and Radio France, buying only renowned international magazines, such as Newsweek and Time. If our people must switch over from multinational satellite channels, with their vast diversification and high quality, all rumours and misinformation must be wiped off the newspapers and air completely! As they start enjoying the reinstatement of effective radio and TV stations, they deserve only the best. Most business people now only give out adverts to local newspapers on festive occasions. I suspect the reason for this lacklustre trend in advertising is because the local newspapers are full of rumours and misinformation. No one wants to run an advert that would appear next to a slanderous article!!

In conclusion, I will now hand over to you, Bernadette Cole, Sam Metzger, Christo Johnson and others. You have started a wonderful but hard job and somehow I believe that you will succeed to heal this cancer before it becomes Terminal.

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

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