Progress towards press freedom in Sierra Leone but there are emerging threats – Welcome to the Sierra Leone Telegraph
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla: Sierra Leone Telegraph: May 5, 2022:
On May 3, 2022, SLAJ joined the world in observing World Press Freedom Day 2022. And this is SLAJ’s official statement marking the day.
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS STATUS
Since the historic repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Act in 2020, Sierra Leone has made commendable progress in the area of press freedom. No journalist has been imprisoned in connection with the practice of journalism.
No media houses have been shut down for what they print or broadcast, with the exception of Justice FM, which was banned a few days ago by the IMC for 10 hours for allegations of “non-radio language ‘ and ‘threatening remarks…’.
Incidents of arrest and detention of journalists by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) on orders from above or by order of influential people have decreased significantly since 2020.
In the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, Sierra Leone moved up 29 places, from 75th to 46th out of 180 countries, largely due to the repeal of the criminal defamation law. , the adoption of the IMC 2020 law as a big step towards solving the minimum conditions of service of journalists and other media workers, and media pluralism in the country.
And for the first time in the 22-year history of the Independent Media Commission (IMC – the statutory body which regulates the media and which was created to support the movement of the media towards self-regulation), His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio endorsed the 7 appointees from SLAJ, including the President, to sit on the new IMC Board of Directors consisting of 12 professional members.
SLAJ works with the security sector and tries to realize the memorandum of understanding that we signed last November, which is of fundamental importance for the realization of freedom of the press.
Additionally, the government of Sierra Leone announced an increase in its annual media subsidy from Le 250 million to Le 500 million, although it has yet to disburse for the years 2021 and 2022.
Last month, the government, in partnership with SLAJ and BBC Media Action, organized the first national media sustainability and investment conference with the aim of positioning the media in Sierra Leone for investment opportunities.
THREATS TO FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
However, while it is good on a day like this to highlight the progress we have made in the area of freedom of the press, it is also necessary to point out emerging threats that could undo any progress that we have achieved since the repeal.
A number of incidents have been recorded by both SLAJ and the Media Reform Coordination Group (MRCG) from 2021 to the present, which is of concern to us.
Harassment, intimidation and detention of journalists have started to occur again, including in the digital space, and in particular by the Sierra Leonean police.
At the end of 2021, a popular rapper from Sierra Leone released a scathing video against the personality of the manager of Radio Democracy station 98.1FM, simply because the station reported the issuance of an arrest warrant against him in a judicial affair.
A journalist working for the government of Sierra Leone, Abdul Fonti Kabia, has been widely reported dead on social media in an attempt to intimidate him.
The SLP assaulted and detained AYV Media photojournalist Ransford Wright when he tried to cross-check some information with the police.
Sierra Leone Reporters Union President and Head of Digital Media at AYV Media, Amadu Lamrana Bah suffered humiliation and nearly missed his flight to AFCON 2021 in Cameroon after flight attendants at Freetown International Airport attempted to drop him allegedly on orders from above for a critical sports update on his Facebook page.
The SLP sent two officers to the town of Bo in southern Sierra Leone to arrest journalist Solomon Joe of KISS 104 FM for a broadcast concerning a transaction between two businessmen. A statement was obtained from him in Bo but he was transported to Freetown and spent a night in police custody.
Worse still, an apparent assassination attempt on journalist Gibril Gottor and his family in the northern Sierra Leone town of Kambia has left the investigative journalist in fear for his life.
Moreover, a free press goes beyond the arrest and detention of journalists but concerns the political economy of the media; for example, unfair distribution of government advertising and non-payment for it.
But we are not only concerned about threats to the freedom of expression of journalists, SLAJ is also concerned about the arrest of other citizens, including dissident teachers and people with intellectual disabilities for expressing themselves freely, as well as the repression of peaceful demonstrations and certain popular cultural activities. .
The SLAJ is concerned that the SLP now appears to be using the vague offense of incitement as an excuse to suppress free speech and we are concerned that the SLP is overreacting to dissenting views expressed by people.
When in 2021, a year after repeal, and on the occasion of our Golden Jubilee celebration, we recognized His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio as a Champion of Freedom of Expression, we done for a good reason and we reminded him that the title comes with immense responsibilities. . Freedom of the press is freedom of expression for all citizens, not just journalists.
President Bio must ensure that the fundamental rights of everyone, including those who oppose his government, are respected and protected. As Her Excellency prepares to deliver her speech at the official opening of the 6th Parliament, we look forward to hearing her strong commitment to ensuring greater protection of freedom of expression not only for the media and journalists, but also for the general public.
SLAJ, with the support of the European Union of Sierra Leone, will mark World Press Freedom Day this year with a PRESS FREEDOM MARCH (WPD) 2022 under the theme: “Protect, promote and expand space” to reflect on the landmark repeal of the Criminal Defamation Act in 2020, a milestone that has created positive momentum and an enabling environment for protecting and promoting freedom of opinion and opinion. expression, including press freedom, and civic space in Sierra Leone.
The Freedom March Platform will further provide an opportunity to encourage the Government of Sierra Leone, all political parties, the Parliament of Sierra Leone and the security sector (especially the Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces) to strengthen their commitment. respect and protect freedom of expression and freedom of the media in the country for everyone at all times.
The freedom march is not an end in itself but the beginning of a long march towards freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Sierra Leone, the realization of which will be SLAJ’s main priority in the years to come. come as we head to the city of Makeni in June 2022. to elect a new executive and renew my term as president.
We therefore look forward to working with the European Union, British High Commission, United States Embassy, Irish Embassy and other national and international organizations and experts such as our university partners Bournemouth UK, IMC, Freedom of Information Commission, MRCG, BBC Media Action, Faculty of Mass Communications, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, the UNIMAK Department of Mass Communications and the Government of Sierra Leone.
CALL FOR RESPONSIBLE PRACTICE
Meanwhile, SLAJ has received numerous complaints of alleged reckless practices from some media outlets across the country.
Let me remind my colleagues and all media houses that media freedom must be used responsibly. Journalism is a privilege, a service to society, not to be exercised irresponsibly, never to be abused. This is also a priority for SLAJ, and we will continue to launch other training programs to continue building the capacity of our practitioners.
SLAJ therefore calls on all journalists and media houses to ensure professional and ethical practice at all times and to put the public good above all other interests or considerations.
About the Author
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla is the National President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ).