Lawrence Williams: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 June 2020:
The Government of Sierra Leone has gazetted an Independent Media Commission Act 2020 that seeks to eliminate fair competition in the media landscape and consequently silenced independent journalists in the Print Media.
The Independent Media Commission Act 2020 contains onerous provisions that would undermine media pluralism and completely eliminate the registration of newspapers as a ‘Sole Proprietorship’ business, and only provides for registration under the Partnership Act 1890 and the Companies Act 2009.
The Act, if enacted by Parliament, will give the IMC sweeping powers to even shut down media houses on grounds that ‘it is in the public interest so to do’.
It’s important to note that many newspapers in Sierra Leone are registered under ‘Sole Proprietorship’ as one among several options provided for under the current IMC Act.
It is believed that the elimination of newspapers registered as ‘Sole Proprietorship’ under the ‘new law’ would lead to the closure of many independently owned newspapers, end media scrutiny of government institutions and public officials; and inevitably result to ending governance accountability and transparency in Sierra Leone.
This particular law would not only put the young media owners/practitioners out of business but will also greatly undermine their livelihoods.
Many young media practitioners like myself have invested millions of Leones into the operationalization of independently owned newspapers, and have also created employment for many. We also contribute to revenue generation through taxation.
It is my considered view that the unnecessary rush to repeal or amend the current IMC Act – which is already sufficient to regulate the media – and the onerous provisions contained therein, have once more exposed the insincerity and hypocrisy behind the repeal of the Criminal Libel laws.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of democracy and strong advocate during the battle for American independence said: “We’re it left to me to choose whether to have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate a moment to the prefer the latter.”
IF this Independent media commission Act is passed and made into law, it will put the final nail to the coffin of print media in Sierra Leone as we know it, and thousands of small stakeholders will lose out. The people that stand to lose most, are the ordinary Sierra Leonean men and women that rely on this vital service that helps them form their opinions at election time. That is why we urge all fair minded members of Parliament to think through this process, before the act is passed, or amend the most draconian aspect of the law.
The number of Print Media circulation around the world is falling drastically. Some big house name newspapers and media outlets can only be found online. Some newspapers have even cut their print size – like the Guardian, New York Times, and The Washington Post. In terms of our country, I think the battle cry should go up to save our print media. In Sierra Leone, print media is far more cheaper and readily available online newspapers. Print media plays a vital role in keeping our government on their toes. In the absence of an effective opposition, the print media that operates independently, are feared by governments of any colour, whether APC or SLPP, for their headline grabbing messages.
Back in the eighties, the Tablet newspaper was one of few feisty independent newspapers that was challenging the excesses of president Saika Stevens. Pios Foray the proprietor lamented about gangs of youth carrying late night attacks on his struggling newspaper. This was in the 1980s. In other words nothing seemed to have changed despite the passage of time. Mobile phone was a pipe dream. If you wanted to make a phone call, you have to queue up at SLET. It seemed to me whilst the world is moving forward, we are still stuck in reverse gear. When Pios Foray was asked about the attacks on his newspaper, he was quoted as saying: “We suspect they were thugs in the pay of politicians. Some things never change.
A step by step dismantling of the pillars on which democracy stands, that’s what you are witnessing; exactly as most authoritarian regimes in times past have done it. Firstly, silence the independent media because they are more credible, reliable, very hard to keep on a leash, under control. What a regressive move this is! And the leadership of SLAJ who openly insinuated to the disgust of us all that he has been bought by the criminal SLPP, is as quiet as a mouse, waiting for FREE land and financial assistance to build a brand new hi-tech headquarter. NASRALLA must GO!
Again, here is another poorly advised political scheme about to be implemented by the the government that will jeopardize and imperil hundreds of sustainable jobs, destroying the livelihoods of hard working Patriotic citizens without offering those adversely affected any kind of consolation whatsoever. The Notorious SLPP absolutely believes in nothing, are experts at creating nothing, and therefore they will forever achieve nothing, A damn shame!