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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Over Press Freedom… AG Confesses

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Over Press Freedom… AG Confesses

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The learned Minister made this statement in his Keynote Address at the congress also marking SLAJ’s 45th Anniversary held at the Haikal Academy Hall in Bo last Friday.
Mr. Kamara noted that press freedom declined in the last 12 years as a result of political, terrorism and other negative vices. The Minister maintained that the safety of journalists needs to be guaranteed in the context of a free press.
Talking about the countries that suffered this menace in 2015, he said he was happy that Sierra Leone was not featured among countries like Bangladesh, Burundi, France, Serbia and Zimbabwe.
The Attorney General said a free press can guarantee economic growth and transparency and these conditions are building blocks for the upliftment of a country towards the right democratic direction.
“As we record stiff decline in journalism world over, two factors heightened the polarisation of the country’s media environment. The first is the degree of extra legal intimidation as alluded to in an oppressed state and the physical violence that has been faced by journalists. These problems I must say have been accrued not only in Sierra Leone but areas like the Middle East, where journalists and the media are pressured to take sides,” Minister Kamara pointed out.
The Attorney General went on to suggest that SLAJ should work with his office to see how best to repeal the Criminal Libel Laws and at the same time strengthen other areas in the Public Order Act, while noting that there are other ways of punishing journalists rather than sending them to  jail when they default.
The Minister applauded the effort of the Minister of Information and Communications when he called for a roundtable discussion with SLAJ and other stakeholders on the way forward to repealing the Public Order Act of 1965. He noted that it is when all sides of the issue sit together would there be an agreement on the way forward.
In his remarks at the Triennial Congress, Kelvin Lewis the incumbent President of SLAJ who is vying for a second term said in his opening statement that the choice of theme for the Congress, ‘SLAJ at 45-Challenges and Opportunities’ in the face of “the teething problems and challenges of the association in the past 45 years”, noting that as the association gets of age, it must redirect itself towards moving forward.
Mr. Lewis said the association is faced with a myriad of challenges that will help instill professionalism and ethical practice among members. Among these he noted, are the issues of pay by media owners to their reporters, because of the financial challenges faced by media houses. He noted that radio station are challenged by the inability to appropriately pay their staff as they contend with fuel costs to run their generators and TV stations also contending with low and inadequate advertisements and payments.
But according to Mr. Lewis, the biggest challenge facing the association and media development in Sierra Leone is the “overbearing threat of the Criminal Libel Laws” which he noted, “is hanging over our heads making us jittery to report the truth at all times and discouraging private investment in the media.”
Kelvin Lewis however noted that efforts have been kick-started towards addressing the issue and thanked the Minister of Information and Communications for “this bold initiative” and assured that SLAJ is ready and prepared to work with his Ministry and the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in this regard.
He called on SLAJ members to be more forthright as one of the reasons for the retention of criminal laws and described the actions of some members as “reckless, unprofessional and unethical”.
“We are the vehicle for economic salvation of the future and we believe that we can help the government and businesses to grow. When the goods are produced, they need us the journalists to get the information out to the public and potential buyers. When the government passes laws and does other positive things, it is us the media that will give the information to the public. So we need the government and they need us, that is why we believe that negotiations will win the day,” Mr. Lewis stated.
There were other speakers including a representative of the Mayor of Bo City Council, a representative of the Minister of Information and Communications, the IMC Chairman and others. Mrs Fatmata Kamara-Jalloh who is the Financial Secretary gave the vote of thanks.

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