A project to combat disinformation around Sierra Leone’s 2023 public elections was officially launched on the 24th March, 2023 at the Elections Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) Conference Hall on Tower Hill in Freetown.
Supported by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the project is aimed at ensuring the integrity of the information landscape during the electoral cycle and to promote free, fair, and non-violent elections.
Dr. Francis Sowa, from the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), noted that disinformation is deliberate and intentional, and political parties and individuals often engage in disinformation campaigns during elections. He added that SLAJ’s campaign to combat disinformation in Sierra Leone’s 2023 electoral cycle is a key component of the organization’s work in electoral processes, and it should also be intentional and deliberate.
The Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Dr. Victor Massaquoi, expressed excitement about working with all players to combat what he described as the unholy trinity of disinformation, misinformation, and mal-information. He warned that disinformation can reduce trust in Government institutions and urged everyone to take responsibility for combating the scourge of fake news.
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, President of SLAJ, presented the Combating Disinformation in Sierra Leone’s 2023 Electoral Cycle project. According to him, the project will monitor, identify, pre-bunk, and debunk disinformation and its engendered forms, including hate speech. It will also build SLAJ’s capacity to counter disinformation, increase citizens’ awareness of disinformation trends, and improve access to credible information on national political processes.
According to Nasralla, the project will also promote media safeguards against engendered disinformation and hate speech and support women’s chances of success in the 2023 elections.
“Accurate information is crucial to the success of public elections. Citizens should have access to the correct information to enable them to participate and make informed decisions around the elections,” said Nasralla.
Mohamed Ibrahim Konneh, NDI Resident Senior Programme Director, emphasized the need to continue combating disinformation even after the elections, as it is an ongoing menace. He urged all citizens, whether politicians, civil society, or journalists, to target, mitigate, and eliminate all forms of disinformation across the country.
In his keynote address, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, Mohamed K. Konneh, thanked SLAJ and NDI for their efforts in combating disinformation, noting that it is becoming a threat to democracy worldwide. He identified disinformation as one of the major threats to the country’s democracy and good governance ahead of the elections.
Konneh urged members of the public to listen to authentic sources of information and confirm when they receive information on social media. He also assured the public that the Electoral Commission will continue to be transparent, inclusive, and open to members of the public. The project will continue until 2024, and SLAJ is set to establish a SuperNewsRoom (SNR) at its headquarters in Freetown and sub-SNRs in its regional offices in Makeni, Bo, Kenema, and Port Loko to coordinate the fight against disinformation.
The event was attended by Election Management Bodies including the Political Parties Regulation Committee (PPRC) the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), the Office of National Security (ONS), the Initiative for Media Development (IMDEV), SLAJ affiliate bodies and the Chairman Guild of Newspaper Editors among others.