By Lawrence Williams
The Government has gazetted an Independent Media Commission Act 2020 that seeks to eliminate fair competition in the media landscape and consequently silence independent journalists in the Print Media.
The Independent Commission Act 2020 contains onerous provisions that would undermine media pluralism and completely eliminate the registration of newspapers as a ‘Sole Proprietorship’ business and only provides for registration under the Partnership Act 1890 and the Companies Act 2009.
The Act, if enacted by Parliament, will give the IMC sweeping powers to even shut down media houses on grounds that ‘it is in the public interest so to do’.
It’s important to note that many newspapers in Sierra Leone are registered under ‘Sole Proprietorship’ as one among several options provided for under the current IMC Act.
It is believed that the elimination of newspapers registered as ‘Sole Proprietorship’ under the ‘new law’ would lead to the closure of many independently owned newspapers, end media scrutiny of government institutions and public officials; inevitably result in the end of governance accountability and transparency in Sierra Leone.
This particular law would not only put the young media owners/practitioners out of business but will also greatly undermine their livelihoods.
Many young media practitioners like myself have invested millions of leones into the operationalization of independently owned newspapers and have also created employment for many. We also contribute to revenue generation through taxation.
It is my considered view that the unnecessary rush to repeal or amend the current IMC Act – which is already sufficient to regulate the media – and the onerous provisions contained therein, have once more exposed the insincerity and hypocrisy behind the repeal of the Criminal Libel laws.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of democracy and strong advocate during the battle for American independence said:
“We’re it left to me to choose whether to have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate a moment to the prefer the latter.”