By Melvin Tejan-Mansaray
A national broadcaster has explained the benefit she gained from the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) training for over fifty Parliamentary Journalists held last week Friday at the new building, House of Sierra Leone Parliament at Tower Hill in Freetown.
Princess Gibson, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) Reporter and (newly-elected and first ever elected female Public Relations Officer (PRO), Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) said that the training ‘was very useful particularly that it boiled around reporting audit activities.
She said: “we were told that Parliament is a very conservative institution which operations bother on statutory instruments, constitutional procedures and practices.
Reporting a technical issue like audit needs extra knowledge so that we cannot be found wanting of breach of the procedures and practices of Parliament.”
Madam Gibson explained that there are misconceptions relating to the work of the ASSL most of which were put to rest, underscoring that the role of the ASSL is to provide value for public or tax payer’s money.
She highlighted that the processes involved in auditing from pre activities, management letter, open and exit conferences with MDA’s and so on stands out for her the most and coined the training as ‘outstanding’.
On submission by the Clerk of Parliament, Hon Ibrahim Sesay that journalists must be mindful of premature publication of Committee hearings and when should the auditor’s report becomes a public document and so on, Princess Gibson said that it has to do with accurate reporting of audit activities.
“The Clerk dwelled on Standing Order (SO) 75 (premature publication) that deals with Committee activities but not the plenary.
As reporters and journalists we are expected to report accurately, if not ones institution becomes questionable, the reporter’s credibility is also at stake, that is why we are being encouraged to have a professional grasp from the specialize body,” she narrated, adding that therefore clarity should be on the minds of journalists as to when and how to report Committees and plenary sittings.
On restrictions and injunctions in reporting some Parliamentary exercises, Princess said: “We are clearly told that reporting Parliament largely is on the pleasure of the Speaker.
For Committees, sometimes there are technical issues especially when it comes to defense matters. Most times decisions are taking behind closed doors for security and other considerations.
What was clearly stated is that we can go around Committees but you don’t report the decisions, you can report the process and deliberation but most decisions are premature. I think it is a precautionary clause, it is not as bad as we think.”
When asked if precautionary clause in premature publication is in the interest of freedom of the press or public expression, the new SLAJ PRO said that: “freedom of expression has its own limits.
Even the Auditor General (Lara Taylor-Pierce) told us that in their work they have confidentiality clause also.”
Princess Gibson nonetheless urged colleague journalists to “grab the opportunity to use the knowledge that you have gained in the interest of our public by accurately reporting what we have learnt.”