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Sierra Leone: first-ever media code for elections adopted at UN-backed roundtable

Sierra Leone: first-ever media code for elections adopted at UN-backed roundtable

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, with assistance from the United Nations, the National Election Commission of Sierra Leone and other civil society groups has agreed on a media code of conduct to guide the electoral campaign leading to presidential and parliamentary elections set for this July.

This is the first time journalists in the country have formulated such a code to guide media behaviour during elections, according to the UN Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL).

A national roundtable in Freetown on Friday, 16 March, brought together Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) delegates from all regions with high-level representatives from the UN, the National Electoral Commission, the Political Parties Registration Commission and civil society organizations to consolidate the findings from regional seminars in a final Electoral Code of Conduct for Media.

The document was ratified and signed the following day by regional executive members of SLAJ, newspaper and magazine editors, radio and TV station managers at a signing ceremony attended by cabinet ministers, leaders of political parties, senior members of the National Electoral Commission, the Political Parties Registration Commission, the UN and diplomats, as well as activists of national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The two-day event also attracted participants from across the country including traditional and religious leaders, civil society organizations, women and youth groups, trade unions, local councillors and members of the armed forces and police.

The Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and UN Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Victor Angelo, emphasized the historic importance for the entire sub-region of this decision by Sierra Leonean journalists to adhere to self-regulatory factual and objective reporting that should be matched by a strong personal and collective commitment to uphold and observe the principles set out in the Media Code of Conduct.

“The United Nations is engaged in this process, because we recognize the maturity and professionalism of the journalists in the country,” Mr. Angelo said, reiterating the UN's determination to ensure credible and transparent Presidential and Parliamentarian Elections set for 28 July.

The Media Code of Conduct for the elections resulted from a collaborative effort between SLAJ, UNIOSIL and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The compliance of media with the Code is to be observed by a Monitoring and Refereeing Panel which will include members of SLAJ, the UN Country Team and other organizations.

Alhaji I. B. Kargbo, President of SLAJ, said his Association's formulation of a code of conduct is “part of a general goal to make sure that the elections do not get out of hand,” adding: “The media has a key role in the upcoming elections, especially in informing voters about the main messages of the political parties. Journalists will be most effective in assuring successful elections if their contributions are within a self-regulated framework.”

In Sierra Leone the 2007 elections are widely regarded as a watershed in democratic development, because the country is still recovering from an 11-year long civil war. The Media Code of Conduct complements the Political Parties Code of Conduct which was a collaborative effort between the UN in Sierra Leone and the Political Parties Registration Commission. The Political Party Code of Conduct was signed by eight active political parties on 20 November 2006.