“We are committed to all the pronouncements we have made on the media”
By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has reiterated his commitment to the Sierra Leone media while calling on the 4th Estate to work with the Government to move the country forward.
“I am pleased to engage the leadership of the 4th Estate, and let me assure you that we are committed to all the pronouncements we have made on the media,” said President Bio during a courtesy call by SLAJ at State House on Monday 21st May 2018.
“The media plays an important and critical part in the democratic process; so we need this kind of dialogue with you. We should work together for you to have the latitude and freedom to do what you are supposed to do. That is the reason for our commitment in our manifesto.”
In his campaign during the 2018 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections 2018, President Bio’s party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) made about nine commitments to promoting press freedom. These promises were repeated during the President’s speech to the 5th Parliament. Key among these are the repeal of the criminal and seditious libel law, enhance the capacity of the IMC and provide budgetary subvention to SLAJ.
President Bio assured SLAJ that they will look at the Criminal Libel law and bring it in conformity to what obtains today. However, he noted that the fear is that it will open individual and groups of people to unfair attacks by certain sections of the media.
“But this concern is the only snag and we should be able to handle that by ensuring that everybody is covered and people’s hard earned reputations are protected,” he said.
The President continued: “It’s good now that we have somewhere to start and we are not starting all over again. We’ll also look seriously at the IMC and the SLBC. This is the dawn of a new era, we should turn a new page, look at the issues and be proactive in dealing with the challenges facing these bodies.”
President Bio also mentioned Social Media, which he described as a new frontier that must be utilized so that it will not be detrimental to society.
On the budgetary subvention, President Bio said it is meant to support the leadership structure of the media to function properly.
Responding to a request by SLAJ for regular press conferences with State House, President Bio said there will be the usual press conferences and assured that there will be some that he will do himself to be able to keep the media abreast with his work.
“We should work hand in hand to move this nation forward and we should be genuine in our engagement. This is the beginning of the relationship. If we are going to part, we will do so as friends and in a democratic way,” said President Bio with a wry smile.
Earlier, the President of SLAJ, Kelvin Lewis, congratulated the President upon his election and presented a draft policy document on the efforts made so far in the process of repealing the criminal libel law and strengthening of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).
Lewis explained that they’ve had some lengthy consultations on the need for repeal of the law with support from the offices of the former Ministers of Justice and Information, the Justice Sector Coordinating Office (JSCO), the British High Commission, the US Embassy, the Irish Embassy and involving all stakeholders from the Sierra Leone Police, CSOs to the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) and the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA).
“This means we cannot start all over again but we can move from where we left off. Yet we are ready to work with the Government and the relevant stakeholders to review what has been done so far and see what we can add or delete to get a better document,” said Lewis.
The SLAJ President also called on President Bio to look into the original Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) Report which he said contained a proposed Chapter on media freedom.
“The press freedom provisions in Sections 11 and 25 of the 1991 Constitution are not justiciable. So we presented a case for a specific chapter for the media as obtains in other African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria. The proposed chapter reinforces press freedom and freedom of expression, the IMC and the public broadcaster and the CRC accepted the proposal but it was turned down by the Government White Paper,” said Lewis.