President Bio has disclosed that with full concurrence, the Attorney General has done a cabinet paper on the repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act, which criminalizes libel for the consideration of Cabinet.
He made this statement at the Radison Blu Garden on Wednesday 5 December 2018 at the inaugural presidential-media cocktail.
He emphasized that in page 147 of his maiden address at the State Opening of the First Session of the Fifth Parliament, he pledged his Government’s commitment to among other things “repeal the seditious libel law” and “enhance the capacity of the IMC to enforce the IMC Act,” which according to him is in line with his new direction manifesto.
“We are all aware that Part V of the Public Order Act criminalizes any publication that is deemed defamatory or seditious and has been used as a regime to unduly target and imprison media practitioners and silence dissident views,” Bio lamented.
He explained that while 1965 Public Order Act may have been passed to muzzle the press, yet the wording of the Act clearly puts every citizen’s right to free speech in jeopardy.
He stated even though the justification for its retention may abound but that the overwhelming and preponderant view is that criminalizing libel is no longer fanciful, and seems to import what was formerly an autocratic style into democratic governance.
“When we repeal the Public order Act of 1965, we hope to open up Sierra Leone’s media sector to new investment and growth, foster creativity and innovation, and support the development of high quality journalism which will in turn support good governance and democratic accountability,” the President maintained.
He however cautioned media practitioners that repealing of Part V of the Public Order Act does not envisage a void in the accountability matrix relating to freedom of the press and expression, nor would it imply softening the legal regime or grant a carte blanche to journalists to defame people.
“Journalists who churn irresponsible statements will be held accountable through a testable, verifiable and justifiable civil process of reprimand,” he asserted.