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HomeNewsOctober 18, 2023 Sierra Leone 2023 Elections: Promoting Information Integrity Through Media...

October 18, 2023 Sierra Leone 2023 Elections: Promoting Information Integrity Through Media and Information Literacy In the age of digital information overload, discerning fact from fiction has become more crucial than ever. This is exacerbated when there

In the age of digital information overload, discerning fact from fiction has become more crucial than ever. This is exacerbated when there is competition for political power, especially during elections. In the run-up to the Sierra Leone 2023 elections, a beacon of hope emerged in the form of an intensive media and information literacy training, thanks to the European Union Delegation’s support in collaboration with International IDEA and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ).

This initiative, conducted in June just before the elections, aimed to empower journalists, bloggers, and youth advocates with the essential skills needed to identify fake news online, rely on trusted sources, promote responsible social media behaviour and foster peaceful electoral dialogue in Sierra Leone. As the dust settled post-election, reflections from participants shed light on the profound impact of this training.

Patrick Yatta Conteh, a seasoned reporter for Cotton Tree News and  a social media enthusiast, was among the training beneficiaries. He emphasized how the workshop instilled in him the significance of responsible reporting and fact-checking during the election season. “The International IDEA training we had before the election impacted me a lot,” Patrick shared. “It taught me responsible reporting and fact-checking of videos, photos, and information shared on social media platforms.”  

“During the elections, I had the chance to utilize several valuable tools, including some Google applications that I learned to employ for verifying photos and other content. As an example, on election day, a photo circulated on social media regarding ballot stuffing, and I successfully used ‘Google Reverse search’ to confirm the authenticity of that image,” Patrick added.

For Mohamed Konneh, News Editor at Standard Times and Acting Station Manager at Star Radio, the training was transformational. He highlighted how it equipped journalists to combat fake news, misinformation, and disinformation effectively. “The training has helped us greatly,” Mohamed stated. “It has reshaped how journalists approach election-related reporting and their general newsroom behavior. Journalists now exercise more caution when identifying misinformation and disinformation, especially when covering events like elections.”

Mohamed also detailed a change in the media landscape’s dynamics. “Journalists used to post anything on social media without much thought,” he explained. “Now, that has changed.”

The training’s influence extended beyond the newsroom. Participants like Hannah Reeves, a dedicated reporter for AI Radio and active social media user, utilized her newfound knowledge to educate the public. “The training came in handy before the elections,” Hannah noted. “I shared WhatsApp voice notes with various groups and individuals, urging them to verify information before spreading it. Many of my friends even reached out to me for assistance in verifying information.”

Hannah’s commitment to countering misinformation was evident as she continued, “Immediately after the training in June, I produced a report to raise awareness about the dangers of misinformation, which is especially critical during election periods.”

Ahmed Nasralla, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists ( SLAJ), emphasized the importance of the collaborative training efforts in promoting peaceful electoral dialogue. He also highlighted how some organizations commended the media’s professionalism in covering the elections. “The training helped journalists maintain a high level of professionalism,” Ahmed emphasized. “Independent bodies such as the Independent Media Commission and the Media Reform Coordinating Group commended journalists for their conduct during this election.”

In a world where information wields immense power, Sierra Leone’s journey towards fostering information integrity through media and information literacy has taken a significant step forward. Thanks to the tireless efforts of all involved, the nation stands better equipped to navigate the complexities of the digital age and ensure that accurate, reliable information prevails, even during the most critical of moments like the 2023 elections.