Media and conflict in Sierra Leone: national and international perspectives of the civil war

Valentina Bau


The rise of the media in Sierra Leone. The media and the civil conflict. The evolution of the conflict. The Western media perspective of a "barbaric" Africa. Western media coverage of the civil war in Sierra Leone: the British example. The role of NGOs in news reporting.

The end of the twentieth century saw an adverse escalation in armed conflict. A characteristic of this was that whilst the majority of wars that took place before the 1990s were fought between states, conflicts post 1990 progressively began to take place within countries. The doctrines of major world powers no longer seemed to determine the ideologies and objectives of warring groups and, almost as a new war strategy, combatants started to target civilians rather than fighting sections in order to achieve their objectives. Atrocities began to be the statements that publicised political positions. In countries that were rich in natural resources, such as diamonds, the political goals of wars were often linked to the complex logics of resource appropriation (Bangura, 2004).
Rather than providing an account of the events that shaped the unfolding of the civil war in Sierra Leone, this paper focuses on the analysis of the role that the media played in elaborating the perception of those events, both at a national and international level. A theoretical examination of the impact of the conflict’s media coverage - which has been explored and reviewed by authors such as Khan (1998) and Shaw (2006) - is conducted and its effect of the war explained.
The growth of the Sierra Leonean press is discussed and its limitations reviewed, examining both the financial and legislative constraints that characterised it, some of which derive from the colonial period. The role of the media is then evaluated in relation to the internal influence that “biased” journalism had on the shaping of the war, and how it impacted on the fighting. Finally, an example of the Western media coverage of the conflict is also reviewed within the context of theories that illustrate the way the African region is often regarded as an uncivilised and hopeless continent, where little can be done by the developed world to put an end to violence.

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