The public relations and media arrangement around the Sierra Leone presidency is a bit loose and probably lacking the finesse that normally accompany such important co-ordination that is vital in how the office of the president is portrayed, protected, and information disseminated. Recently, there has been a lot of controversy as to who is the official spokesperson of the presidency, evidence of how broken-down the entire communications make-up of the government is. Too many appointments have been made around the presidency to manage, and run its media agenda. You have a Special Assistant to the president for the Media; you have an Adviser to the President on Media Affairs; you have a Director of Communications at State House (the office of the president); you have a communications unit manager at State House.
Whether some of these appointments are relevant enough because of apparent need or simply to create positions around the presidency and satisfy the ever increasing demand from political associates or friends, for jobs, is difficult to fathom. But, one thing that is clear is: the entire media operation around the presidency has been a total mess. The simple reason for this: so many people are juggling for ‘influence’. Every one wants to be seen as the most important voice, or the most useful media ‘tool’, and in the process have not helped the presidency champion the national Agenda for Prosperity to enable an impact-oriented achievement.
The Minister of Information and Communication is for all intent and purposes, the official spokesperson of the government, and hence the presidency. At one time, there was a Presidential Press Secretary and a Presidential Spokesman, both jobs were fizzled out of the system just as they were created, making little or no impact whatsoever on the crucial need to get the president’s message across. Previous occupants of these positions got embroiled in unnecessary media wars with newspaper publishers and editors, leaving the extremely vital work of pushing the president’s media agenda in total jeopardy.
There are times when information about crucial presidential engagements or government functions find their way onto the pages of social media outlets like Facebook, instead of being disseminated to the well established Sierra Leone media at home and abroad. Sometimes, for one to know what is happening around the presidency, you have to head to the Facebook pages of those who are supposed to disseminate these types of information to the media. Facebook has become a cult thing for many of them as they juggle for who will have the most likes instead of taking the serious job of getting the message of the Head of State across. Some of these Facebook pages are mixed-up with personal affairs, insulting language and nasty rhetoric along with presidential material, where love stories are even often vividly expressed alongside with the president”s recent visit to Makeni.
Shambolic as this may sound, it is how the media apparatus of the presidency operates. The Head of State has hired some very fine people around him, but they are not working together and in tandem and refuse to collaborate with a common purpose to help him achieve his objectives. This puts the legacy of the president at serious risk. Facebook and most social networks were designed for collaboration and exchange of ideas and material, often with links to important news websites or information. When officials working around the presidency use social media to engage in personal attacks revealing astonishing details about the inner workings of State House, it will not go down well with the reading public who make regular trips along the cyber super highway. And it does not hold well for a government that is struggling to maintain a good reputation and keep itself in line with strong international standards.
The Minister of Information and Communication is supposed to be the official point of media engagement for the government. It is the job of the state house communications unit to convey all activities and engagements of the presidency to the Information Ministry for proper dissemination. Apart from the Minister of Information and Communication, who is also the government’s official spokesman, no one else has the authority, unless expressly authorized by the presidency, to speak on behalf of the president. Those who are not authorized to make public statements or pronouncements on behalf of the presidency, or government, in public or on social networks do expose the government and the presidency to ridicule, and most often take away the seriousness of what needs to be conveyed to the masses. But again, no government official should be stopped from expressing their personal opinion on social media outlets, not unless what is expressed is in direct conflict with procedures laid out, or when such actions duplicate the functions of the appropriate authority meant to perform such.
Transparency International got away with its recent botched attempt to conduct a poll about corruption in Sierra Leone because there is no effective means of countering the anomaly in the methods used to obtain such information. Not understanding the relationship between government policies and an effective media agenda is a serious problem, and this gap in the government’s media policy construction has been seen as a loophole by many human rights organisations who have taken turns in tarnishing the good image and reputation of the country and its leaders, because they are aware no one will hold them accountable for their actions, and no effective scrutiny will follow.
For the outside world to understand the development and positive transformation taking place in Sierra Leone, there needs to be an effective media strategy in place. What the Sierra Leone President, Ernest Bai Koroma, and his government have achieved so far since assuming office in 2007, could be a serious yardstick to secure unprecedented recognition from world renowned institutions that can enhance the automatic flow of much needed aid and assistance, if what is happening on the ground is thoroughly disseminated to get maximum exposure in the print, electronic and broadcast media worldwide.
Those who work for the president need to come together and agree to work together. Their differences of opinion should not be a hindrance to achieve the common objective of helping define a successful media policy for the presidency. The new Minister of Information can facilitate this. He is indeed a go-getter; with the track record of getting things done.
Government officials need to move away from the idea of who is more important or whose job is more relevant. The assignments given to each individual should be carried out as prescribed, not as they deem fit to exercise these functions. If you are a spokesperson then speak well. If you are not , then simply keep quiet. To avoid contradicting statements, especially on issues pertaining to state matters or the presidency, it is vital that press releases and statements come directly from the spokesperson. These tenets if not adhered to, can cause serious ramifications for the government, and make the Head of State look bad. So, put the country’s interest first, not yours. Put the president’s agenda before your personal quest for notoriety if your interest is really to serve him and country.
© 2013, Ahmed M Kamara. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.
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