By Dominic Tucker
BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity, on Friday completed two-day training for media practicing journalists in Sierra Leone on the use of social media as a tool for reporting the elections.
Held on the topic ‘Social Media reporting and elections’, representatives from different media were trained about the advantages and disadvantages of social media, such as how the platform could be used to inform the different types of the various publics about the elections and how it could also be used as a disservice to the public with misinformation, mistakes, and rumours.
The general elections will be held in Sierra Leone on 7 March 2018 to elect the President, Parliament and local councils, and efforts are being made by international and local stakeholders to ensure a peaceful outcome.
Specimen News’ Dominic Tucker said the training provides an opportunity for journalists to report credible news to the people through social.
“Majority of the people have access to social media especially Facebook and WhatsApp, but there are too much conspiracy theories and misinformation spreading around,” he said.
The government and people are worried about the way and manner some people are using the social media. A video documentary was played to participants to learn about the 1965 public order act on the libel laws of SL.
Section 33 (1) of the 1965 Public Order Act on the Libel Laws of SL, states, “Any person who— a) does or attempts to do, or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act with a seditious intention; or
- b) utters any seditious words; or
- c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication; or
- d) imports any seditious publication, unless he has no reason to believe that it is seditious, shall be guilty of an offence and liable for a first offence to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to a fine not exceeding one thousand leones or to both such imprisonment and fine, and for a subsequent offence shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, and every such seditious publication shall be forfeited to the Government.”
Elections in Sierra Leone have always been marred by violence due to the regional and tribal sensitivity of the electorates. This trend, if left to the dictates of social media news, would lead to tension and violence in the 2018 elections.
“Misinformation is already spreading in social media,” said Mohamed Tarawallie, a primary school teacher, adding that if measures are not taken the misinformation will plunge the country into a political crisis.
Tarawallie says the training of journalists is not only to ensure peaceful elections but an important step in sustaining the peace in Sierra Leone.