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By Mohamed Sankoh (One Drop)
Whenever I read a press release from State House, I actually appreciate why President Julius Maada Bio is now carving the unenviable reputation for making bland speeches in and out of Sierra Leone. Most—if not all—of the press releases that have been issued by the Seat of State, since the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) came to power in April 2018 to date, have been insipid at best and un-journalistic at worst.
Those who have darkened schools of journalism, or even rookie reporters in some of Sierra Leone’s backwater newspapers with Untrained and Unqualified (UU) Editors as their mentors, know that a press release has certain characteristics which distinguish it from an Op-Ed, a Commentary, Feature, or even an Editorial.
But what normally comes from the “Office of The Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman” at State House, as press releases, could best be described as Junior Secondary School essays! Most of the press releases that come from that office do not appear on an official Letterhead or do not have Reference Numbers. This makes them useless for academic referencing and archival purposes. And besides, most of the State House press releases are too wordy with little vital information in their wordiness.
Take, as an example, the press release of 21 March 2019 in which President Bio’s state visit to the United Arab Emirates is heralded by the “Office of The Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman”. From the first paragraph, a trained eye could see that it is written by an untrained hand. Logically, if the President of Sierra Leone is going “on the invitation of the Government and people of the United Arab Emirates”, then it means it is a state visit. So why should “state visit” be dragged into the same sentence with “the invitation of…”? A trained hand would have done a little pruning to make that sentence terse, including putting the rightful “in” after “participate” ( not “at” as the writer wrongly puts it).
And as the reader is trying to digest the wordiness of the first paragraph the second paragraph continues on the same breath. Again, common sense dictates that if President Bio is going on a state visit to the United Arab Emirates, definitely he will be received by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi who invited him, the Prime Minister, and other eminent state functionaries who will make the visit stately. He is not expected to meet with chefs or florists or janitors. Surely, he will certainly meet with the person who invited him! So telling the reader that the Sierra Leonean Head of State will be meeting with the person who invited him is like stating that the boy is a boy.
But as the saying goes, “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”; so is the press release under review. In the third paragraph, a little composure is seen as the reader is told that, “President Bio’s engagements will create the opportunity to strengthening [sic] economic and technical cooperation between Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates focusing on Energy, Education, Health, Science and Technology and Agriculture”. This shows that even fools can have their own Eureka moments!
But as the reader is trying to applaud that journalistic correctness in the labyrinth of dangling modifiers and the absence of clincher sentences, the usual State House half-truth is flung at the reader’s face when s/he is told, in paragraph four, that President Bio will be participating in “the Global Education and Skills Forum” where he is expected to “deliver various speeches during the conference.” But in the next paragraph, the “Office of The Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman” contradicts itself when the President’s “various speeches” are downgraded to just a “statement” on a specific topic!
Had the press release, under review, been written by a trained hand, paragraph five would have been merged with the preceding one for the sake of brevity. Another non-starter in this paragraph is where we are told that President Bio, “will be addressing leaders from both public and private sectors…” Even cleaners at State House know that, apart from religious symposia, global conferences which are organised for investments and skills purposes are normally attended by leaders from both public and private sectors. So why state the obvious?
I wonder whether the writer of that press release ever heard of the word: Synonym. A quick Content Analysis reveals that “President Bio” appears in six of the seven paragraphs that constitute the entire press release. This gives it a monotonous colouration. A trained hand would have substituted “President Bio” with The President or the Sierra Leonean Head of State in two of those six paragraphs.
And the blandest part of the press release of 21 March 2019 from the “Office of The Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman”, at State House, is the last paragraph which starts with: “It can be recalled that President Bio inherited a government that was on the brink of economic collapse and a country with international image battered by….” Well, in standard journalism, whenever the phrase “It could (or can) be recalled” is used, whether in a press release or straight reporting, it means the writer wants to give a “backgrounder” to, or do “backgrounding” on, the Intro. So, in this case, the “It (can) could be recalled” should have taken the reader to what transpired during President Bio’s first visit to the United Arab Emirates if there was any, not the shoe-stringed economy he supposedly “inherited”.
But as William Shakespeare notes in his play, Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. So for those at State House, a press release by any other structure is a press release for them. Except that any press release is not just a press release for trained eyes and hands!
It is on that note that I will end today’s One Dropian dropping with a quote from Benjamin Disraeli that says, “There is no wisdom like frankness”.