By Abdul Kuyateh
The 23rd July 2020 marks a remarkable date in the development of the media in Sierra Leone, as the House of Parliament removed the obnoxious criminal libel law from the law books, putting Sierra Leone on the world map of modern practice of journalism.
It has been a protracted tussle indeed, among media stakeholders in the country. While the media frown at Part V of the 1965 Public Order Act as an impediment to freedom of speech enshrined in the 1991 Constitution, the public is equally concerned about protection against bad journalism; and the Government and Law makers are caught up in the middle of this tie, having an obligation to ensure freedom of expression but not at the expense of the reputation of the public.
The establishment of an Independent Media Commission to regulate media content represents a cornerstone in balancing the puzzling equation.
Whether the IMC could adequately deliver on its mandate is just another pocket of the matter. The fact is that there had been reports by members of the public hinging on unjustifiable publications that had the propensity to defame their hard earned reputation. Equally, media practitioners had pointed accusing fingers on the IMC for selective regulation.
The Amendment of the Public Order of 1965 and the IMC Acts is geared towards resolving these and many other issues affecting the Sierra Leone media landscape.
It had indeed been a bumpy path which required determination, commitment and good will to reach this final stage. Consultations and debate had been acrimonious among the parties which should add value to the finished product, serving the interest of democracy and good governance.
The media, represented by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and its affiliate bodies believe that expunging the criminal libel laws is not a recipe for gutter journalists to thrive. Whether you like it or not journalism in Sierra Leone has grown over the years, cutesy of the School of journalism at Fourah Bay College, USL. Successive governments had clamped down on radical journalism under the guise of “public interest”, a vague and subjective phrase that has now been deleted from the body of the Amended Act in its entirety.
The Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed R. Swarray must be given a thumbs up for his tireless efforts to see the process to a consensual conclusion, building on the platform of a strong political will.
It is now our onus as journalists to seize this era of fundamental reformation in the industry to prove a point and grow. By repealing this ill-intended part of the law regulating media practice, the profile of practitioners is raised; the ball is now in their court.
I only hope that the powers of the IMC have not been increased to make for the room created by the repeal!