Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Building Investigative Reporting Skills in Sierra Leone

Project aims to empower media and civil society to become effective anticorruption watchdogs.
By Mohamed Kuyateh

A new IWPR project is helping journalists in Sierra Leone by training them in investigative reporting so that they can hold government to account and provide proper coverage of court cases and other legal matters.

Together with Partners for Democratic Change, IWPR is working to empower independent media and civil society groups so that they can operate more effectively as anti-corruption watchdogs.

As well as offering training in investigative journalism, the project will support an initiative called Law School for Journalists, intended to improve the accuracy with which media professionals report on court cases.

A recent workshop held to launch the project activities brought journalists, civil society activists and legal experts together to learn about investigative tools from Benin-based media trainer Gérard Guèdègbé.

Alusine Sesay, a journalist with the Concord Times in Freetown, identified some of the challenges facing reporters as “the libel law, lack or unreliability of national data, reticence of sources to talk to journalists, who are not seen as trustworthy, and the challenge of funding”.

Moses Kargbo, another Concord Times journalist, said he and his colleagues valued training in investigative reporting, “which is crucial in modern-day journalism”.

The participants were also briefed on aspects of media legislation as well as the law on sedition by Ansu Baatillo Lansana, a judicial expert from Sierra Leone.

“The laws restrict freedom of expression in some cases, despite guarantees made in the constitution,” Lansana said.

Sierra Leone’s parliament passed a Right to Access Information Bill in October 2013, but the law has yet to come into force.

The project as a whole aims to bridge the gap between the judiciary and the media, which often find themselves at odds in Sierra Leone.

“The media sector and the judiciary have a strained relationship as a result of lack of trust, an inferiority complex and [problems] keeping to ethical standards,” said Claire Carton-Hanciles, executive director of the Legal Aid Board.

The Law School for Journalists will feature intensive training sessions focused on legal literacy and the specifics of legal journalism, as well as study trips for journalists to attend and report on court sessions in Freetown and meet lawyers and judges.

Last year, a first phase of this project trained journalists in Sierra Leone and Nigeria in investigative reporting techniques. The focus was on best practice for looking into abuses in both public and private sectors, with an emphasis on high-level corruption. Participants learned how to define and identify corruption, conduct interviews, analyse data, uphold ethical standards, and stay safe in a hostile environment.

The course also covered freedom of information legislation and access to government information.

Kelvin Lewis, president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, said the work was “instrumental in improving investigative journalism in the media landscape”. (See Nigerian, Sierra Leonean Journalists Learn Investigative Skills.)

“IWPR’s intervention in the media landscape in Sierra Leone since phase one in 2014 is to promote good governance and increase accountability for all,” said Samba Sesay, programme director at the Campaign for Good Governance,

She warned that corruption within the judiciary was a particular problem, and welcomed IWPR’s new focus on this sector.

Yeama Thompson, who sits on Sierra Leone’s Access to Information Commission, said that media sector, too, should adhere to the highest standards.

“Journalists should treat media ethics with the utmost respect,” she said. “Upholding media ethics and values will go a long way in promoting good governance in the country.”

Mohamed Kuyateh is IWPR Programme Manager in Sierra Leone.