The way the Presidency or Chief executive of any nation handles public perception about himself and his administration is very vital.
That can only be done when the Presidency has people that are professional in media management and political communication. Of course, there will never be an all out rosy and cosy relationship with media because it is very difficult to control the media.
United States Politics is replete with how Presidents had maintained very good relationship with the media just to ensure that public perception about them and their administration is very good.
It is for this reason, President Roosevelt’s Press Secretary in the 1930s, Stephen Early commented, “the whole administration is public relations effort.” (Tumber 2000, 159).
This was further re-instated by Colin Seymour-Ure in his work, Prime Ministers’ And President’s News Operations that “… everything the Cheif Executive does at everywhere he or she does it, therefore has to take into account the communication implications.”
It is believed in the United States that President Franklin Roosevelt turned the oval office into an engine of leadership when he incorporated the media as an integral part of his government.
In the United Kingdom, Tony Blair and his new labour were very successful when the media was incorporated into their political strategies. People like Peter Mandelson, Phillip Gould and Alastair Campbell were tough and skilful news managers.
The way these people were able to handle the critical British media is still entranced to political and media analysts across the globe.
Most times in African politics, the media is normally used as a means to an end. No sooner politicians get what they want, than they begin to demonize the media.
At times, politicians will only resort back to the media when there is crisis in the country and they know that it is only the media that will be able to pass on the message to the people.
In Sierra Leone like other parts of the world, there has always been a bitter-sweet relationship between the Presidency and the media.
History tells Sierra Leone Media how Bash Taqi who was a media practitioner in the 70 was used by Siaka Stevens to get power and later killed by the same Siaka Steven when they disagreed on issues.
When President Kabbah came to power in 1996, he appointed the Journalist Julius Spencer as his Minister of Information but Spencer later resigned and re-ignited his media business.
Kabbah appointed only one journalist-Sorie Fofana who is now Chairman of the Board of Sierra Leone Cable Network (SALCAB) as press attaché to the United Kingdom.
In the build up to the 2007 election, most of the media in Sierra Leone clamoured for change and as such the people listened and voted President Ernest Bai Koroma and his APC government.
When President Koroma assumed office, he appointed seasoned journalist, Ibrahim Ben Kargbo as his Minister of Information and Communication, Journalist Sheka Tarawallie as Press Secretary, Former Proprietor of African Champion Mohamed Koroma was made Deputy Minister of Information and later Minister State in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and over 15 journalists as press attaches.
The good relationship continued into the second term as Journalist Theo Nicol was made Deputy Minister of Information, Cornelius Devaux was made Deputy Minister of Information, Political Communicator Abdulai Bayraytay was also made Presidential Spokesman and even writer Sylvia Blyden was made Special Executive Assistant to President Koroma.
This relationship did not continue as the press became very critical of Koroma when he suspiciously and unlawfully removed his elected Vice President Sam Sumana.
When the relationship became very soar, President Koroma himself said that, “ the honey moon with the media is over.”
It is from the background of the “honey moon is over’’ that has emerged “presidential media cocktail’’ by President Bio last Wednesday 5 December at the Radisson Blu Garden.
Almost everyone, you would expect to see was at the media cocktail and the president gave what many have described as one of his best speeches so far.
President Bio satirized the press houses that have been very critical of his government just as it is happening at the white house correspondent dinner.
The President also spoke about his commitment to expunging the obnoxious Part 5 of 1965 Public Order Act that criminalizes free speech and also states that journalist should not be killed while doing their work as he sympathized with my friend, Journalist Ibrahim Samura who was killed after allegedly beaten by some people close to the then government including the daughter of former President Koroma.
President Bio also said that the subvention to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) is ready and that there is no pre-condition attached to it.
At this point, I want to give credence to the communication office in the Office of the President for thinking about this idea of organising presidential-media cocktail.
Like the Press Secretary, Yusuf Keketoma Sandi said, organising presidential-media cocktail will not be a way of compromising the media, but a way of ensuring that the media become a critical partner in the democratization process.
It is my belief that the media will never be compromised in speaking truth to power and illuminating the shady deals of government whether or not there is a presidential-media dinner.
It was Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States who said, “I don’t take a single newspaper, nor read one a month and I fill myself infinitely the happier for it.”
On this note, despite President Bio may not be feeling happy with some news publication or broadcast, he should be reading, listening and watching them because the media is a critical partner that will help him when they are critical of issues.