Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 October 2018:
Sierra Leone’s Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has today condemned president Bio’s appointment of party loyalists to head the country’s Independent Media Commission (IMC), a decision that could seriously undermine media freedom in Sierra Leone.
Writing in a statement published today, the secretary general of SLAJ – Mr Ahmed Nasralla, raises what he said are very serious concerns, especially regarding the president’s failure to consult fully with SLAJ before appointing the IMC commissioners.
According to the laws of Sierra Leone, the IMC must be independent of the government and party politics.
But as with previous controversial appointments made by the former APC government of president Koroma, questions are now also being raised about the impartiality of Bio’s appointees and their political affiliation to the ruling party, which critics say could undermine press freedom in the country.
In a press release issued out by the office of the President on Wednesday 10th October 2018, the following have been appointed by the president to serve on the Board of the IMC: George Septimus Khoryama was named Chairman, Melinda Davies and Ansu Lansana as Legal Practitioners, Patrick Unisa Taylor and Eranus Thompson as Telecommunication Experts, Asma Angela James and Victor Salifu Suma as Radio/TV Experts, Mustapha M Sesay and Ethel Johnson as Print Experts, Francis Sowa as SLAJ Representative and Edward King as Representative of the Minister for Information and Communication.
Responding to claims by the government’s minister of information that SLAJ was fully consulted before the president’s decision, Mr Nasralla told the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph – Abdul Rashid Thomas: “This is a big lie. We consulted at the initial stages with the minister of Information and we made our position clear that for them to live up true to their promise of empowering the media to be free and vibrant, they should not install a party person as Chairman of the IMC, which is the media regulator.
“They included four new names without consulting us. And this violates the spirit of Sec 4(1) of the IMC Act. And they went ahead to appoint a chairman that is publicly perceived as a diehard SLPP -ruling party supporter.
“He is our senior colleague, we respect him, but we will not choose him to be the chairman of the IMC. That is why we nominated him to be a commissioner responsible for print media.”
This is the statement published by SLAJ:
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has taken note of the press release dated 10th October 2018 from State House on the appointment of nominees to the Board of the Independent Media Commission (IMC).
We note in particular that at least four (4) names were included in the list without any recourse to SLAJ. This violates the spirit of the IMC Act of 2000 as amended in 2006 and 2007 – (“The Commission shall consist of a Chairman and ten other members, all of whom shall be appointed by the President acting on the advice of SLAJ…” Sec 4. (1).
SLAJ is concerned that the President has gone ahead to propose a Chairman of the IMC, despite the fact that SLAJ had pointed out that the individual is publicly perceived as a partisan party supporter. (Photo: President Bio).
This will undermine the credibility, impartiality and integrity of the Commission and will undermine the confidence of the public and many journalists in dealing with the Commission.
While this attribute is not in itself a disqualification, we are concerned that it defeats the ‘independence’ of the Commission.
We believe the IMC should be free of politics and politically exposed persons. In other words, the IMC should not only be independent, it should be seen to be independent.
In addition, Ethel Johnson, a broadcast expert who has spent all her professional life in broadcasting, retired at SLBC and has no print media experience, was erroneously named as a print media expert in the press release.
It is our considered view that the way these appointments have been made is a complete carbon copy of the past government and this action has severely dampened our spirit and expectations of a ‘New Direction’.
In light of the above we are seriously at pains to understand how difficult it is for government officials to simply consult and disagree to agree or agree to disagree. This attitude clouds our vision for the constructive development of a vibrant, free and thriving media in Sierra Leone.
SLAJ therefore feels severely constrained to accept this proposed composition of the IMC board as a credible regulator and calls on the President to act on the advice provided to him by SLAJ in the spirit of the IMC Act and as a clear manifestation of a break with the past.
Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, National Secretary General – SLAJ