Guaranteeing press freedom, promoting and protecting the rights of journalists, giving oxygen of publicity to the voices of reasoning, and making the country compete with other civilized democratic nations, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, as part of his manifesto commitment, is focussing energy on expunging Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act which criminalizes libel from the law books of Sierra Leone.
The President fervently believes that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that must be exercised by everyone.
The President wants the voices of reasoning not to ever be subduedb which is healthy for development and democracy in modern day politics.
President Bio happens to be the most vilified and literally shredded leader ever by the media in the political history of Sierra Leone. Yet, upon assuming the leadership of the country, he graciously mustered the fortitude of not only creating a media friendly atmosphere for journalists but also giving them a huge plot of land to build their headquarters in addition to subvention now provided to the umbrella body, SLAJ.
All of these are meant to make journalists practise their profession unhindered. What a show of leadership and servanthood !
Also, making it mandatory for all journalists to be paid, preventing reckless and yellow journalism, making the country habitable and marketable for massive media investment, making the Sierra Leone media competitive with the rest of the world and boosting the welfare and conditions of journalists in the country, President Bio’s administration through the Ministry of Information and Communications is profoundly committed to strengthening and amending the IMC Act and Codes of Conduct.
Working towards accomplishing this goal, the Ministry of Information and Communications has consistently and widely consulted and involved journalists in every bit of the review process. At the IMC, SLAJ has representatives who have been part of all the review efforts; not in a singular occasion have they been ever sidelined.
Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, had this to say about the consultations: “We had consultations with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), as well as the Media Reform Coordinating Secretariat. We have SLAJ representatives at IMC who literally went through every nook and cranny of the process. but it is a work in progress; there is still an opportunity for wider and greater consultations.”
The minister has always been willing to dialogue with the public and journalists about anything they are unsettled with regarding the bill. In fact he said that is the more reason why the bill was published. He further maintained that gazetteing the bill does not mean that the bill has already been translated into law but could be a point of discussion making amends where necessary.
According to the new document, It will be mandatory for everyone or company running a newspaper to fully pay their workers at least the Sierra Leone minimum wage, pay their NASSIT contributions, and improve their conditions of service as time progresses. This is good for journalists as it helps them plan themselves well and take care of their families. The days of journalists given ID Cards and asked to go into the world and fend for themselves which is largely responsible for reckless journalism are over.
Anyone becoming an editor for any newspaper must be a graduate. This will no doubt maintain standards in the media profession. Editors must be responsible, focused and intellectually distinguished.
It is now possible for newspapers to run as a company here. It can be a sole proprietorship and company once the conditions set by the Registrar of Companies are met.
President Bio wants to create an environment that attracts massive media investment and journalists prevented from being an incessant prey for greedy and egotistical politicians.
The President as well wants to see Sierra Leone join other countries that have expunged Sedious and Criminal Libel Laws from their law books and guarantee unhindered responsible media freedom in line with international best practice.
Like many others in the country, the President desires to see journalism as an enviable profession in the country, where journalists can become the dignified agents of their destiny; getting regular salaries, taking care of their families, contributing to national development and getting handsome retirement benefits.
President Bio’s Administration is bent on preventing a situation where individuals or agencies can use journalists to recklessly snoop on people and smear their hard won reputation overnight.
It takes people years to build and earn their reputation which should not be recklessly blemished by misguided and faceless cowards in the name of journalism without consequences.
At the pre- legislative session in the Sierra Leone Parliament, the Information Ministry allayed the fears of the public, insisting that safeguards be instituted in protecting the reputation of members of the public against reckless journalism.
Among the safeguards, according to the Minister of Information, are the IMC Act; the Civil Libel Laws, the Codes of Conduct developed by SLAJ, etc.