From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

An Efficient Press Secretary is a Student of Rt. Hon. Hilary Armstrong
By Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Jan 14, 2010, 17:30

Exactly two years ago, His Excellency held a Retreat at Bumbuna from 11th to 13th January 2008. The Special Guest of the retreat was the Rt. Hon. Hilary Armstrong, a former British Parliamentary Chief Whip and former Cabinet Minister of Tony Blair. Her presentation was on the topic, "Communicating with the People".

The honourable British lady spoke on many things but one of the most poignant points she raised that stayed firmly in my mind was her call to President Koroma for his Government to be in constant touch with the press. She warned that "Government could not do without the press". If she is to be believed, Tony Blair succeeded because he engaged the press to the extent of even allowing interviews by journalists who "totally disagreed with him".

Rt. Hon. Hilary Armstrong: Lectured President Koroma and Team up at Bumbuna 2 years ago

At the end of her treatise to the Ministers gathered up at Bumbuna, two years ago, our President is reported to have profusely thanked the Rt. Hon. Hilary Armstrong for her educative words and promised to heed her advice. He accordingly said based on how he would be heeding her advice, he was sure Hon. Armstrong will be Sierra Leone’s unofficial ambassador to the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom.

Whilst I will refrain from opining on whether Koroma has kept to his words to heed the advice of Hon. Armstrong, one thing is very clear to me and that is that the unassuming Press Secretary to Sierra Leone’s First Lady, is definitely a student of Rt. Hon. Hilary Armstrong’s teachings. This gentleman, who prefers to work anonymously most of the time, has perfected the art of working around the clock to keep his Boss image intact. He is a regular visitor to almost all the nation’s presshouses but he pays special attention to those newspapers he knows have the potential to influence public opinion not only in Freetown but nationwide and globally. The man, who does not like to be named but keeps out of the limelight as he does the work for the First Lady, is a superb Public Relations expert from whom other Press Secretaries could learn a thing or two.

If I were Sia Nyama Koroma, I will ensure I do not ever undervalue the significance of that her Press Secretary. The guy is loyal, superb and knows the inner workings of the local media landscape. He knows the newspaper(s) that the public TRUSTS cannot be bought with any amount of cash and so he knows that it is essential for his Boss to be covered and covered well in those newspaper(s). Other newspapers that might be aligned to other Press Secretaries are known in quiet circles to be regular collectors of brown envelopes from State House despite their hypocritical stance of being "independent". Who are they fooling? Not the general public who sneer at them when they try to sport "independent" credentials.

Here at Awareness Times, we write out of conviction and nothing but conviction but we also have a very unique trait. Even if we generally disagree with you, if we are convinced that you have done something that needs to be praised; to be hailed or if we determine that there is a need to defend you, we WILL salute you on these pages without you having to pay us a single cent. And the beauty of it all is that the general public has come to heavily trust what comes out of our pages as a result of this.

No wonder Sia Nyama Koroma’s Press Secretary is always at our doorsteps lobbying for positive coverage to be granted to his Boss. He knows, like the Rt. Hon. Armstrong has taught up at Bumbuna, that when the critical but trusted segment of the Press publishes anything, it gets easily accepted by the voting public; and at the end of the day, it is the opinion of the voters that counts for any politician.

In neighbouring Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has perfected the art of engaging her fiercest critics in the media because as an astute politician, she knows fierce critics influence opinions much better than sycophants. Therefore, it is not at all uncommon to see Johnson-Sirleaf grant an unlimited one on one interview with J. Lyndon Ponnie of the Public Agenda newspaper. J. Lyndon Ponnie is a Liberian journalist who is easily one of the Liberian President’s fiercest critics. Some four weeks ago, President Johnson-Sirleaf got her erstwhile lawyer, Syrenius Cephus detained and charged to court. Interestingly, her lawyer is also a newspaper publisher who publishes the Plain Truth newspaper. Attorney Cephus was accused of publishing what the regime classed as outrageous, seditious material. Naturally, Ponnie went to town in his Public Agenda newspaper, tearing Johnson-Sirleaf to pieces on behalf of Cephus.

Well, Attorney Cephus is a friend of mine and when I heard of his troubles, I telephoned him to commiserate with him to which he asked me to check Ponnie’s Public Agenda website to see his Press Statement on the issue. I went to the website and what did I find? There was clever President Johnson Sirleaf at her best! Knowing interested persons would go to Ponnie’s paper for details of the detention of Cephus, President Johnson-Sirleaf had invited Ponnie to her Executive Offices and allowed him to interview her directly. So although right on Ponnie’s website was Syrenius Cephus’ acidic statement but adjacent was also the photo of President with Ponnie and the interview in which she charmed the wits out of the reader. Who knows? She could be a student of Rt. Hon. Armstrong and Tony Blair in realising the value of engaging those who completely disagree with her. I must insert here that Johnson-Sirleaf’s Press Secretary, Cyrus W. Badio is one of the best in West Africa. That guy is superb!

One fine day, President Koroma will get a Press Secretary like the one Johnson-Sirleaf has and like the one his wife, the First Lady has currently for herself. Writing good English is not the most important quality for a Press Secretary. It is not even amongst the top three qualities. What are these three qualities? Someone should ask First Lady Sia Koroma’s Press Secretary!!

I truly hope before the promised ‘turn-around’ 36 months of Koroma Governance comes around in the next eight months that our President will get himself a Press Secretary who will not only be a student of Rt. Hon. Hilary Armstrong but also know which press houses are the true and trusted real opinion-makers in this country.

Until that time... Ciao!

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