By Thomas Dixon
Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) met in Makeni at the end of September this year for their Annual General Meeting as they discussed “Elections 2018: Media as a Catalyst For Issue -Based Discourse.”
The Theme for their AGM may not have come at a time other than this when the country is preparing for a very crucial multi-tier elections.
I was unavoidably absent at the AGM because of other equally important engagements.
However, my thoughts on the subject under review will be based on the Radical Democratic Approach of the Media as many authors such as Jurgen Harbemas, Peter Dahlgren and Colin Sparks have espoused.
It will be a shift from the neoliberal thinking that many journalists would have expressed when discussing the subject under review by coming up with the elementary roles of media in elections.
First, it must be noted that elections are central to the democratization process of any country just as a free, fair, sober and serious media is essential for credible elections and informed citizenry.
The Radical Democratic Approach goes beyond the ordinary roles of the media as was defined by classical liberalism- the Radical democratic approach is stating that the media is a battleground between contending forces especially in elections (Curran 1991).
Curran, therefore posits that a basic requirement of democratic media in the struggle for the media should be a significant representation of all interests in society.
This simply means that the media in elections should facilitate the participation of all political parties in the discourse and not just to inform the people about the programmes of the political parties.
The media should ensure that an open forum for debate and discussion on critical issues particularly parties’ manifestos are discussed.
The media should not just provide a forum for discussion but they should also ensure that they provide in-depth analyses on those promises to know whether they are achievable or not.
The Radical Democratic Approach of the media is also saying that the media should analyze the internal process of political parties in electing candidates-presidential and others to ensure that it is in line with modern democratic principles. This is so, because a political party cannot give what it does not have if elected into office.
The radical democratic approach of the media in political reporting particularly in elections is also saying that media should not just focus on issues which some members of SLAJ will want to believe, but that they should ensure that the characters of individuals wanting public offices are scrutinized.
Their track records should be examined on the table so that the people will not be hoodwinked into voting for the wrong persons. This is the reason, Curran said, the media should be a key player in the power game.
Another role of the media in the radical democratic approach is the watch dog role. Whereas the neo-liberal theory of the media will say that the media should be observers in an election, the radical approach is saying that the media should go beyond observing by digging out critical issues affecting voters and the voting process.
It is for this reason that James Curan emphasized that the media should expose wrong doings, correct injustice and subject to critically review the exercise of power.
Thus, where there is an unfair process, the media should not just expose but they should blow the whistle for all to know.
For us who believe in the radical democratic approach of the media, we believe that the media role in politics should not just be during elections but that they should be in position to informing the people on the successes and failures of the government agenda, and whether the opposition parties have been performing their roles as credible alternatives.
In as much as we are discussing issue- based elections reporting we should not forget that it will be difficult to separate issues from personality in some of the things that the media will be talking about.