Ethical, Objective and Conflict Sensitive Reporting of the Constitutional Review Process [opinion] (allAfrica.com)

It is very timely to refresh the journalists and civil society organizations about the procedures and activities of the Constitutional Review (CR) process in order to increase information dissemination to the public for confidence building in the entire review outcome. This is true because journalists and other media users need to understand the political and legal ramifications concerning the constitutional review procedure and processes and are expected to report the process professionally without igniting conflict. Journalists are required to provide information on the CR process in news stories, commentaries, editorials, articles and by publishing press releases from all actors as response to the process. The media thus is the EYE, MOUTH, NOSE, and EAR of the public in this context.

The benefits of this strategic engagement of the media is to enhance public education on why we are reviewing the 1991 Constitution and the standard procedure and processes involved for promoting democratic good governance based on international best practice. The media and journalists should therefore support public campaign and advocacy for a constitutional provision of transparent policies and structures in our governance cognizance of judicious legal framework concerning human rights protection, gender empowerment, peace-building, adapting of modern technology and advocacy for political inclusion and mass participation of citizenry in decision-making.

The media should be professional enough in reporting thereby maintaining ethical principles on matters regarding conflict sensitive events with reference to the IMC Media Code of Practice and other related international reporting guidelines for such process. The IMC Codes guide on accuracy, balance and credibility.

The media should be providing timely, accurate and relevant information about the constitutional review process for the public to understand the processes – for example its calendar, events, actors, locations of events and focusing on specific discussions with stakeholders.

The media is expected to promote constructive dialogue among stakeholders on those sensitive issues by way of generating technical interpretations and clarifications in the form of public education for citizens’ mobilization to own the process.

The imperatives of communicating the CRC process are:

To make the entire process visible to all actors and credible through media information to the general public. The media should report the process by giving highlights on every step used by the Constitutional Review Committee, the responses from the state and the suggestions made by political parties, and to encourage the participation of civil society organizations to ensure transparency, accountability and ownership of the outcome. For this to happen journalists and civil society groups are to be abreast with conflict sensitive reporting ethics and mediating techniques to address – partisan interest/regional views in terms of custom and tradition/gender issues/the media making profit or taking sides in debates/advocacy for special needs etc., especially when reporting or discussing contesting submission by political parties or when dealing with thematic debates on major issues political topics.

WHY JOURNALISTS SHOULD PROMOTE PEACEFUL DIALOGUE ON THE CR PROCESS?

The TRC recommended a review of the 1991 Constitution to sustain peace building and enhance media freedom and independence in our democracy.

Participatory democracy requires consensus building in policy formulation of this type, which depends on public information and education by the media.

There is need to advocate for affirmative actions for gender empowerment and rural development using constructive dialogue framework to engage the beneficiaries.

It is time to give space to a decentralized and participatory form of governance for grassroots development using media campaign and advocacy platforms.

Public opinion should be expressed freely with a sense of responsibility facilitated and controlled by the media editors, owners and producers

Hate speech should not be avoided under all cost in media reporting and programming for unity and stability.

Stereotype of people, parties, colours and locations should be avoided if the process should be national.

Malicious propaganda should be ignored in order to ensure democratic conclusion.

Managing public expectations should be a must for all writers and moderators.

There is need to understand media effect in democratic society. This is very important when discussing ethical obligations of journalists and the need for objective reporting on matters of this nature. The media creates and represents public opinion. They shape the minds of their users, readers, viewers or listeners or in short a tool to engineer consent. The media directs and diverts individual mind from behavioural theory of immediate effect.

Specifically the media has cognitive effect; if positive, it means it has increased public understanding of the relevant and crucial issues concerning the constitutional review process and final outcome. Other effect area is on visible public interest in the debates and discussion on suggested reforms in state governance by the process, and finally the positive behaviour of the public by avoiding violence or apathy regarding the process.

On this note, I want to draw your attention to the ‘Agenda Setting Theory’ which could be understood in terms of ACCELERATING, DIVERTING and IMPEDING public education and debate in the CR process for us to understand the obvious media effect analysis regarding professional reporting of conflict sensitive matters. To accelerating agenda involves promoting the dialogue and mediation among stakeholders on thematic issues of the CR process, while diversion is about taking the minds and interest of the public to something else like Ebola conspiracy theories and prevailing court proceedings. And impeding the agenda means destroying or terminating debates and discussions on key subjects or topics in the process.

In Sierra Leone, today, we have mass media, multimedia, communications media (the Internet) and social media, which are all facilitating public communication. In terms of mass media there are television and radio stations, and newspapers and magazines engaging the public. Multimedia content of films, documentary and music is also part of the communication techniques used by the CRC. The development of Web 2.0 technology has increased the proliferation of social network or media in this century. Thus the use of Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and SMS are very important in shaping public opinion regarding the constitutional review process in Sierra Leone.

Thank you for your attention!

NOTE: This is a presentation made at a one-day media engagement organised by the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) at the Miatta Conference Center on Tuesday July 28, 2015

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