British High Commissioner – Simon Mustard: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 01 November 2020:
On 28th October Sierra Leone took a significant step forward in enhancing Human Rights with the repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965 and enacting the Independent Media Commission Act 2020.
It is a day that should be celebrated for media freedom and by all Sierra Leoneans. Congratulations to everyone involved in this great achievement.
His Excellency, President Bio made a manifesto pledge to repeal the criminal libel law in 2018, as he set out his vision to promote Sierra Leone on the global stage, as a country open for business and investment.
Experience from around the world shows that an independent media encourages greater investment, from home and overseas, as it gives investors access to accurate data and information. It also allows greater participation by the people in political and economic debate, which can inform and influence policy making.
Democracies which are more open to media and in which government, parliament, the Courts and businesses are subject to public scrutiny, will also have more responsible government spending, and a better-informed public on economic and fiscal decision making.
In simple terms, a free press boosts economic growth and prosperity. This is critical during a time when the Governments around the world grapple with the economic and social challenges posed by COVID 19, as well as with other critical issues such as climate change and sustainable growth.
A more informed public and policy makers are crucial to overcome these challenges. Informed and rigorous journalism challenges us all to think about these issues – an important part of this process.
The UK has a long history of a vibrant and independent media, underpinning the values of our democracy. It is not always comfortable, of course! Democracy is not easy, nor is free speech.
But we believe that people must be able to discuss and debate issues freely, to challenge their governments and institutions peacefully and within the law, and have access to information provided by a strong, robust and independent media.
We have continued to support media freedom around the world, including here in Sierra Leone, working closely in partnership with Government, Parliament and the media in recent years.
We have helped train journalists, including more female journalists. We have provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Information, SLAJ and the IMC.
We will continue our partnership with all these organisations to help promote a liberal, forward looking media system, underpinned and safeguarded by effective regulation. This important legal milestone is simply one more step in that collective journey.
We congratulate his Excellency for achieving his manifesto commitment and the dedication of Minister Swaray to reach this milestone. The UK and our partners stand together with Sierra Leone as we continue to build a new media regulatory system which gives protection to the public, as well as those in positions of responsibility, while also defending media freedom.
A free and vibrant press is the bedrock of a well functioning democracy. Its the fourth estate in any free and open society . In the absence of a strong opposition to any government, the media takes up the role of holding governments to account especially today’s Sierra Leone under Bio’s dictatorship . It seems the APC and the other smaller parties have given in to Bio’s bully tactics, rendering them to play the game of wait and see what happens next mentality, which in any well functioning democracy is dangerous, even to the detriment of the ruling party. Government don’t need YES MEN, but a constructive opposition that points out their flaws. And debate issues of national importance, and come up with practicable solutions.
Hence in the absence of strong opposition that has made themselves redundant observers of things, a free press becomes a vital component to check the excess of the government, to make sure they function within the perimeters of established laws of the land. And defend the right of the ordinary people. The work of a free press is to challenge the norms of society, and help educate the population on things that are of national interest to them. The opposite of a free press is dictatorship. A free and unhindered press can also act as a public forum, where citizens of a state can debate on matters of important national issues, and come up with ideas of how to develop their country.
A free press can also shine a light on darkness and mysterious alleys of government incompetence, there by making them more accountable to the people that elect them in the first place. Repealing the libel laws is the first act of laying the foundations for true and functioning democracy. But that is just the start. We are still stuck in the starting blocks. May God bless Sierra leone.