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Sylvia Blyden writes Al Jazeera: Your Sierra Leone Timber documentary remains a disgrace!
By Awareness Times Newspaper
Apr 5, 2012, 19:21
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Publisher of Awareness Times newspaper in Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, has dispatched an appropriate letter to the Head of Al Jazeera English network. The letter, in reaction to an Al Jazeera media release (see below), for the very first time reveals that it was not the Anti Corruption Commission which diligently spent weeks to uncover the illegal timber exports in February 2011 which led to indictments and prosecutions. It was the work of local journalists headed by Editayo George-Temple who also worked in close collaboration with the Awareness Times.

 

This was a good 9 months BEFORE Al Jazeera sent Sorious Samura to come to Sierra Leone to stage scenes, ask leading questions, suggest answers, cut and paste scenes and pretend he had uncovered something.

 

The letter was sent by e-mail today in reaction to a Media Release issued yesterday by Al Jazeera. Dr. Blyden states in her letter that she does not care about the so-called "additional" material that Al Jazeera reportedly gave to ACC. What she says is a fact is that the Al Jazeera timber documentary, as aired, stinks. It is a disgrace.

The Al Jazeera Media Release and Blyden's letter here follows:


From: Al Jazeera Press Office
Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2012 13:50:51 +0300
Subject: Al Jazeera comment on timber investigation

Media Release
For immediate use
Attention: News desks

Al Jazeera comment on timber investigation

In November 2011, as part of its ground-breakingAfrica Investigates series, Al Jazeera English broadcast Sierra Leone: Timber! , a documentary about the illegal logging that is laying waste to Sierra Leone’s endangered forests. With an undercover team, award-winning Sierra Leonean reporter Sorious Samura set out to find out why this environmentally catastrophic trade has been flourishing under the nose of the government.

His disturbing investigation revealed how the country’s laws against logging were being systematically and corruptly flouted. It also revealed that two associates of one of the most powerful politicians in the country were prepared - in return for large cash payments - to facilitate the export of illegal timber.

Subsequent to the broadcast, Al Jazeera was approached by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone and was asked to assist with an investigation into the affair. Al Jazeera has since given the commission a large amount of evidence in support of the serious allegations contained in the film.

Al Jazeera English executive producer Diarmuid Jeffreys said:“In line with our legal obligations and out of respect for a judicial process that is still ongoing, we haven’t spoken publicly about any of this until now. However we think this is a good moment to say how proud we are of the tremendous work of Sorious Samura and the Africa Investigates team in bringing these matters to light. This sort of in-depth reporting is never easy and Sorious, who is one of Africa’s finest investigative journalists and a man of the utmost integrity, has had to stay silent in the face of some wildly ill-informed comment about the documentary in sections of the media in Sierra Leone. But of course, we stand completely by him, the AI team and by our film and we look forward to the speedy resolution of the inquiry now being conducted by Joseph Kamara and his colleagues at the Anti-Corruption Commission.”



FROM THE DESK OF SYLVIA OLAYINKA BLYDEN
Awareness Times Newspaper Publisher

 

Mr. Diarmuid Jeffreys

Producer,

Al Jazeera English

 

Wednesday April 4th 2012

 

Dear Sir,

 

YOUR MALICIOUS ATTEMPT TO CONTINUE TO DE-FAME MY COUNTRY’S POTENTIAL TO ATTRACT CREDIBLE INVESTORS

 

I belong to the sections of the local media in Sierra Leone who have thoroughly discredited Aljazeera and Sorious Samura’s attempt to de-fame my beautiful country which is one of the best places to do business in Africa. I will decline to mention your now exposed crude attempt to portray the building housing the offices of the Honourable Vice President as a place where dollars change hands before one is ushered in to see the second most important man in our country. You were very eager to mention the Vice President’s name in your earlier dispatches. Your current refusal to mention his name in this your latest Press Release speaks volumes in itself.

 

Your so-called journalist of “integrity”, Mr. Sorious Samura made such utterances negating ease of doing business in Sierra Leone with nothing but a malicious intent to give flesh to an allegation that had no merit. The documentary was not about uncovering timber exports. It was all about setting up the Vice President. That is the only reason why Sorious Samura stated that it takes “considerable political clout” to “complete paperwork” meaning corrupt use of the Vice President’s office.

 

Listen to the words of Sorious Samura as aired by Al Jazeera:

Within 24 hours, our undercover businessmen are completing the paperwork for the logging company. Setting up any business in Sierra Leone normally takes many weeks even with bribes and to register so quickly takes considerable political clout...

 

Mr. Jeffreys you should be very bothered right now over Samura’s allegation of ‘completed paperwork’ because not only did Mr. Samura not register even an ordinary penny trader ‘panbody’ shop (let alone a logging company) but he de-famed Sierra Leone when he said “Setting up any business in Sierra Leone normally takes many weeks even with bribes”.

 

The Africa Investigates timber report was, amongst other things, a malicious attempt to discredit Sierra Leone and our potential for attracting credible investments. It is certainly NOT a “tremendous work” as you would wish to portray it. It is an attempt by a so-called international journalist to take credit for work that had infact been done by local journalists months before he arrived to “investigate”.

 

Since you are in contact with Joseph Kamara of the Anti-Corruption Commission(ACC), I will urge you to ask of him just whom it were who tipped off the ACC back in February 2011 about illegal timber exports which led to arrests and prosecutions.

 

Allow me to proudly inform you and the world for the first time today that it were local journalists from the same “sections of local media” who spent several weeks in diligent undercover work following which local journalists took their findings of an imminent shipment of specified sealed containers on board a Maerskline ship to the authorities.

 

Local journalists first took the findings to His Excellency the President in the afternoon of February 2nd 2011 with the kind assistance of his Protocol Officer Sullay Mannah Kpukumu who sensed the urgency of the investigated findings. President Koroma upon perusing the local journalists’ evidence on imminent illegal timber exports, immediately summoned Brigadier Kellie Conteh, the then Head of Office of National Security with an instruction for the journalists to brief him for action.

 

The next day, (February 3rd 2011), it was local journalists again who not being satisfied with the pace at which Kellie Conteh was following up on the matter and with the Maerskline ship getting ready to be loaded and sailing off, who then took the findings to Joseph Kamara at the ACC, the next day of February 3rd 2011 at around 4:30pm. By 6pm on that day, the investigations of the local journalists had yielded fruit with the ACC conducting a true sting operation with local journalists standing by. The rest is History; all with the aid of weeks of diligent work by local journalists whom you now dare to deride in your inane media release of April 4th 2012.

 

So you see, before Al Jazeera’s unscrupulous journalist Sorious Samura arrived here to cook up stories about how difficult it is to do business in Sierra Leone, several patriotic journalists from “sections of local media” which you so derogatorily speak of had already done the work.

 

This is why there is nowhere in the documentary where you can see timber illegally leaving our shores after by-passing the scanners at the Ports. Local journalists had already ensured it would never happen again.

 

In other words, local journalists were already at the forefront of uncovering and stopping illegal timber exports before Al Jazeera. Local journalists just did not make a lot of cheap publicity out of our efforts neither did we lie that to register a business in Sierra Leone takes several weeks “even with bribes”.

 

Your documentary lacks objectivity for the sheer fact that nowhere does it mention all the laudable work of the ACC, the President, the Government and the majority of the good people of Sierra Leone [including local journalists] to combat illegal timber exports. Instead, it gives the impression that Al Jazeera and Sorious Samura had done an unprecedented undercover work in a country Samura maliciously portrays as containing hopelessly corrupt citizens. But what did he achieve other than a patent attempt to draw the Vice President into a pre-staged drama by a notorious dramatist like Sorious Samura?

 

Sir, I find it amusing that even as you found time to roundly insult a section of the local media as having made “wildly ill-informed comments”, you still do not yet understand that it is the local media which has already undressed your ill-fated attempt to portray Sierra Leone as a place that is so corrupt that even to register a business “takes several weeks even when you bribe”.

 

In case you still do not know, please be informed that your widely aired publication about how difficult it is to do business in my beautiful country flies in the face of the fact that reputable statistics from World Bank, IMF and other financial and business institutions say otherwise.

 

The damage of your ill-informed documentary becomes even more of a serious matter when taken against the backdrop that you aired the fallacy in the wake of our country’s hosted forum to woo international investors back in November.

 

I find it astonishing that you are claiming to “stand completely” by an aired documentary which has wrongly and unfairly dissuaded credible investors from proceeding to do business in a country which you impugn as being a place where investors have to wait several weeks to register a business “even with bribes”. Your malicious publication does not seem to bother you.

 

I am however quite sure that one of these days you might find out that you have indeed done something against the people of Sierra Leone for which you should be bothered.

 

It is very shameful that you are taking pride in that documentary which so lacked objectivity, it could not even credit the work which had been done by the Government and ACC in cracking down in illegal timber exports. Rather, your documentary took credit you did not deserve.

 

Let me reiterate that all of what your “finest” Sorious Samura was parroting in your aired documentary about what happens at the Water Quay to by-pass scanner checks had been long since uncovered by local journalists in Sierra Leone. Samura was simply stealing the work of local journalists who truly spent hours and hours in undercover work and presenting them to be his own. The man has no integrity to speak of.

 

You and Al Jazeera may take pride in Samura for doing a shabby and utterly disgraceful hack job but here in Sierra Leone, we, the patriotic and truth-seeking section of the media know better. We know for certain that it does NOT ‘take many weeks to register a business here… even with bribes’ as your “finest” journalist would want to mislead potential investors. We also know that absolutely nothing was uncovered in that documentary other than staged scenes, leading questions and suggested answers.

 

You might have submitted additional material to the ACC but the fact remains that the documentary, as aired, continues to remain to be a disgrace.

 

Yours sincerely,

Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.

A Journalist from section of local media which condemns Al Jazeera


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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