Presidential cocktail is an annual event held in December where journalists from across the country meet with the president and other stakeholders meet to celebrate the gains made in the information sector.

Speaking during the event, the minister of Information and Communication Mohamed Rahman Swaray highlighted the gains made in the information sector.

“Tonight, I am humbled and honored to join Your Excellency at another Presidential Media Cocktail.

I am also very delighted to be among my friends of the Fourth Estate. I must say that each of you is looking great—you are in your elegant and resplendent best.

We are one happy family here! Our family is called Sierra Leone.

The Presidential Media Cocktail provides an opportunity for us to collectively celebrate the gains made in the information sector, gains that promote a transparent and accountable government and expand the frontiers of freedom.

Your Excellency, I still recall your passion for a professional media sector in Sierra following a presentation meeting at State House, in the presence of the Hon Vice President and senior management staff of my Ministry. You said, and I quote: “I still believe that if we aim to change Sierra Leone, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”

I am here to report that journalism has indeed been a critical tool in the transformative development undertakings of Your Excellency’s administration. Indeed, the media has been a partner in the implementation of the New Direction Agenda and the Medium-Term National Development Plan (2019-2023).

Your Excellency: you have championed press freedom. That is not necessarily me speaking; that is what the Sierra Leone Associated of Journalists (SLAJ) is saying.

You have remained a powerful influence in the promotion of public access to government information.

You repealed the Criminal Libel Law and ended the draconian 55-year-old seditious section of the Public Order Act that criminalized free speech.

And SLAJ, a key stakeholder and partner, presented its Golden Jubilee Press Freedom Award to Your Excellency at State House on June 9, 2021, for the Repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act.

You have requested that we provide pertinent information to the media for onward transmission to Sierra Leoneans. You believe this is not because we want to do our people a favor, but because it is their entitlement because the government is there to serve the people.

You signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom on behalf of Sierra Leone, the 5th country in Africa to commit to the principles and values of the Media Freedom Coalition.

In April this year, the Ministry of Information actualized Your Excellency’s commitment made on 28 October 2020, following your assent to the Public Order (Amendment) Act 2020, to host a National Media Viability and Investment Conference.

There are many more substantive accomplishments that time will not permit me to highlight.

I have one good news: this government is not about to rest on its laurels.

The IMC Act 2020, including a reviewed Media Code, is expected to be enacted soon. It will attract investment opportunities and provide a social security scheme for media practitioners.

I must inform this gathering that the electoral regulation is at an advanced stage to be tabled in Parliament.

Your Excellency, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

The positive indicators are on an upswing. For example, the 2022 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Sierra Leone 46th out of 180 countries. In 2021, Sierra Leone was 75th out of 180. It means we jumped over 29 other countries.

Those whose job is to track social development progress tell me that kind of leapfrogging could only result from sweat, determination, and arduous work.

My dear media friends, as we celebrate the continuing expansion of press freedom in Sierra Leone, verily, I will say to you today: let’s not take it for granted. And this is why:

According to UNESCO, over 70 journalists lost their lives between January and November this year. More than 500 journalists are in jail in different countries and thousands of others confront various forms of censorship and harassment.

While many countries are enacting restrictive laws, Sierra Leone is abrogating restrictive laws.

No journalist—I repeat—no Sierra Leonean journalist is in jail for doing their work. No citizen is in jail because of the exercise of his or her right to freedom of expression.

But as a society, we must call out the vile tactics of political campaigners whose sole purpose is to destroy our society.

We must expose the negative activists who circulate messages of hate, taking advantage of the absence of gatekeepers who would have sanitized content entering the public discourse.

The Great Winston Churchill once said, “Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without it being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”

In an era where new media, technology, and artificial intelligence are changing our lives, those bent on feeding the public with alternative facts and deep fakes blur the boundaries between responsible and irresponsible media practice. We must expose them.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan aptly advises: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his facts.”

Talking about facts, let me tell you a joke or two to underscore the reality of how some practice journalism today. One day, a journalist learns from the rumor mill that two individuals had stolen Le400 each from a certain company. So, the journalist wanted to do simple math. So, he asks the engineer: how much is Le400 + Le400?

The engineer checks the calculator and says: “It’s Le800, but you can make 1,000, just in case.”

Not satisfied, the journalist went to a lawyer to ask the same math question. “Let me tell you what the correct answer is,” said the lawyer. He took the journalist to the side, whispered in his ears, and asked: “How much do you want it to be? Write it and I will defend it.”

The next day, the journalist provided the answer in a banner headline:

“Massive fraud at XX company; millions are stolen.”

As you know, a lawyer can ruin someone’s life for a fee; some (not all) journalists will do it free of charge. I am glad that those of you gathered here today are some of the best journalists in the country today.

The point I am making is that context matters. Journalistic integrity matters, although it is in short supply for many. In a hurry to break a news story, ethics are sacrificed.

Take for example a case of a car accident. Hundreds crowded the scene, as you would expect. A journalist races in and tries to meander his way to the accident spot. Not getting his way, he began shouting “Give me the road! give me away! I am the son of the accident victim.” The crowd allowed him through to the front only to realize that the car had hit a goat.

So, there continue to be ethical and integrity challenges that we must address.

We must aspire to establish an environment where the new wave of citizen journalists and legacy media will convey the people’s needs and desires to government bodies, through online and offline platforms; we desire an open and free-flow exchange of factual information and ideas.

Your Excellency believes that an enabling media environment is a sine qua non for democracy and good governance.

I remain grateful for the confidence reposed in me as Minister of Information to help actualize the dream of a free media and a free society.

As I reflect on what we have done so far, I must confess that it has not been an easy task. At times it’s been turbulent and at other times, tranquil. But that is to be expected. The government and the media can sometimes be like a couple with misgivings for each other, yet none can live without the other.

So, we will sometimes have disagreements. When exercised within reason, disagreements can be healthy because the best solutions to intractable problems may sprout after a battle of ideas. And no institution or government official has a monopoly on ideas.

But, once more, I say to you my dear friends: It is normal to disagree, but we must disagree without being disagreeable.

Ultimately, the press and the government share the same desire for a peaceful and prosperous country. That is our collective aspiration. I truly believe that. Therefore, we—each of us— must try to take one step at a time, the right step, each time, each day toward our aspirations.

His Excellency the President leads the charge; we are lucky to have one whose commitment to that aspiration is unwavering. He is your partner in progress.

His gentle guidance and counseling, having once served as Minister of Information, is invaluable.

Your Excellency, distinguished members of the Fourth Estate

For sure, huge challenges remain in the media sector, including poor technical and logistical capabilities of media institutions. With the President’s support, next year my Ministry hopes to collaborate with SLAJ to begin to address some of these challenges.

We will continue to need the support of great partners like the BBC Media Action, SLBC, IMC, SLENA, the Stratcom Units at Statehouse and MIC, MRCG, NATCOM, the TELCOs, UADF, and our international friends.

Please permit me to quote the late President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah during the launch of the vision 2025 consultations in March 2001. He said: “No lasting achievement is possible without a vision and no vision can become real without action and responsibility.”

Your Excellency has provided a vision, and we have been taking action. I will now implore SLAJ and Sierra Leoneans in general to take responsibility. Governance is not a speedboat; it is an ocean liner. Progress will not happen by flipping a switch; progress will happen when we all put our hands on deck and do our duty.

The American Statesman Collin Powell said: “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”

Therefore, let’s get down to doing the hard work for the sake of the country we all love—Sierra Leone”.