He continued: “If you visit me again, it’ll be to say thank you Mr. Minister and your government for ensuring the repeal of the criminal libel law. We are keen to make history that we are the party and the government that made it happen for the struggling Sierra Leone media.”
The Information Minister noted that the media has a critical role to play in deepening democracy and holding duty bearers to account.
“We want you to be able to perform that role efficiently. We want an unhindered and unfettered media with the enabling environment to practice. Together with SLAJ I am sure we can design a road map for the development of the Sierra Leone media,” said Swarray.
On the issue of the subvention to SLAJ, the Minister said it’s not a favor they are doing SLAJ but they are living up to their responsibility to the media as a government.
“The yearly budgetary allocation to SLAJ is not a charity but your right as the Fourth Estate; you are the fourth arm of government and considering the constraints under which the media is operating you actually deserve this allocation and we’ll not be asking for an arm or a leg in return,” said the Minister.
However, the Minister cautioned bad examples in the media in the interest of protecting people’s hard earned reputations.
Apart from direct support to SLAJ, the Information Minister reiterated government’s commitment to strengthen the Independent Media Commission to make it more independent and responsive to the challenges facing the media, and to make the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) a real public broadcaster that everybody will be proud of. He also said Government is already working on reforms in the business sector to encourage private sector investment in the media.
“We want to leave behind a vibrant media with quality standard of journalism and Sierra Leone will become an exporter of good journalism,” said Swarray.
The Information minister thanked SLAJ for being the first set of people from what he referred to as his constituency to visit him and wish him well.
Meanwhile, Swarray said he will facilitate a meeting between SLAJ and His Excellency President Bio as soon as possible to take the discussion further.
Earlier, the President of SLAJ, Kelvin Lewis, congratulated the new Minister on behalf of the Association and formally presented a draft policy proposal on the repeal of Part 5 of the Public Order Act put together by the Justice Sector Coordinating Office. The document is the culmination of widespread consultations, including inputs from major stakeholders, on the case for a repeal. He appreciated the effort of the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph F. Kamara, the British High Commission, the Irish Embassy, SDI, CARL and other NGOs and MPs in the entire process.
“So Mr. Minister, this is how far we have gone with the process of repeal and we are confident that with your government’s commitment we should be able to complete the journey,” said Lewis.