Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 June 2015:
After last week’s massive fines levied against several local newspapers in Sierra Leone for violation of the country’s media laws, a High Court appeal by lawyers representing a local newspaper – the Independent Observer, ruled last Friday, 5th June, that whilst the decision by the Independent Media Commission (IMC) against the paper was in order, the imposed fine was excessive, disproportionate and must be reviewed.
This Court judgement delivered by Justice Allan Halloway, will be regarded by legal observers as a landmark decision, in a country where far too often the judiciary is seen as an adjunct of the political class and government officials.
Hence last Friday’s court ruling against the IMC, will go a long way towards confidence building between the judiciary and the country’s media.
According to the IMC, the Independent Observer was fined Le16,500,000 for violation of the media code of conduct, relating to a number of offences committed in its publication dated 6th February 2015.
“Accuracy principle, a fine of Le 1,000,000 (One Million Leones), Copyright, a fine of Le 500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Leones), Privacy, a fine of Le 5,000,000 (Five Million Leones), Indecency and Pornographic Materials, a fine Le 5,000,000 (Five Million Leones) and publishing details of a person’s…individual lifestyle, or of any physical or mental disability unless these are directly relevant to the story, a fine of Le 5,000,000 (Five Million Leones).”
But in a similar action brought against another newspaper – the Metro, the IMC appeared to be far too lenient in its ruling, to which the IMC said: “The Editor of METRO NEWSPAPER, Mr Eddie Momoh has appeared before the Complaints Committee to justify the publication of pornographic and indecent material in his newspaper publication of Friday, 27th February, 2015. The Editor, Mr. Eddie Momoh apologised for the said publication and promised not to publish such material in the future. He was given a stern warning by the committee and advised to desist from such.”
The editor of the Independent Observer was not so lucky – or perhaps not so well connected.
But it is not yet clear whether the IMC will accept last Friday’s judgement by Justice Halloway. This is the initial reaction of the IMC published today:
“The Independent Media Commission (IMC) has taken cognisance of the ruling of Justice Allan Halloway on the matter between the Commission and the Independent Observer Newspaper. The Commission understood from the ruling which was read by the learned Judge on Friday 5th June 2015 that:
- The Commission followed the correct procedures in dealing with the matter.
- The Commission did not violate the principles of natural justice in handling the matter.
- That the fines were “excessive” and they should be “reviewed.”
“The Commission would like to state that it is yet to officially receive a written copy of the judgment through its lawyer.
“As an initial reaction, the Commission particularly notes that the ruling neither stated that the procedures it used were wrong, nor stated that the publication was ethical; which is one of the major concerns of the Commission in doing its work.
“On the issue of “reviewing” or “reducing” the fines, the Commission would come out with its position after studying the ruling on the matter.
“It could be recalled that the Commission had fined the Independent Observer Newspaper a total of Le 16,500,000 (Sixteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand Leones) for an article published on the 6th February 2015 edition of the newspaper.
“The said publication breached several provisions: Accuracy principle, a fine of Le 1,000,000 (One Million Leones), Copyright, a fine of Le 500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Leones), Privacy, a fine of Le 5,000,000 (Five Million Leones), Indecency and Pornographic Materials, a fine Le 5,000,000 (Five Million Leones) and publishing details of a person’s…individual lifestyle, or of any physical or mental disability unless these are directly relevant to the story, a fine of Le 5,000,000 (Five Million Leones).
“The Commission noted that the last three breaches have no stipulated fines in the Code of Practice, and therefore utilized provisions in both the IMC Act of 2000 as amended in 2007 (Section 36 (3) and the IMC Code of Practice of 2007 (principle 31, p. 17) in levying the fines. The provision states that “Where no penalty is prescribed by or under this Act for any complaints inquired into by the Commission, the Commission may censure or impose a fine not exceeding Le 5,000,000 (Five Million Leones). Failure by the newspaper or magazine to pay the imposed fine shall lead to the suspension of the publication until the fine is paid.”
“Finally the Commission is of the view that the fines imposed on the Newspapers are in conformity with the law.”
Will the IMC be appealing against this court judgement?
So the courts are still operating in Sierra Leone. We are still awaiting the decision on Sam Sumana v the Attorney General. The last time I checked, a decision is yet to be announced.