Sierra Leone journalists’ association says President Bio is Press Freedom Champion

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 June 2021:

Last Wednesday, President Dr Julius Maada Bio was recognised as Press Freedom Champion by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), whose leadership paid tribute to his government’s repeal of the 1965 criminal libel laws which have been used by successive governments – including President himself, to jail journalists and those with whom they disagree.

Receiving the award, president Bio said, “I want to start by congratulating SLAJ on the celebration of their Golden Jubilee Anniversary. This is a great milestone for any professional group. But what makes it interesting is the fact that we certainly did this together. At a time when we have just repealed Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965”.

He emphasised that the achievement was important for the media and government’s commitment to free speech in the country, adding that when he made it a party manifesto to repeal the criminal libel laws, it was not just lip service.

The president said, he believes that democracy must go hand in hand with a free press and that SLAJ and government could be critical friends who respect and appreciate the place of a responsible press.

“That is why I decided to take the bold step. So, by honouring me with this, as a champion of Free Press, I think it’s important for me because it was already a commitment I made in my manifesto. But I think, I’d like to thank you for thinking about that, because many governments had an opportunity to do it. But they did not have the strength of mind to take on certain sorts of challenges. Of course, there were critical views within my own government and elsewhere.

“But it can be a useful part of a healthy democracy. We cannot have just one voice, we should have a dissenting voice, especially when those dissenting views are responsible, I think, to give us the opportunity to rethink some of the decisions we make and add value to the decisions we make.

“I am never afraid of dissenting views. And maybe that is one of the reasons why I was never afraid to really take on this challenge. And as a matter of fact, everybody is a journalist in the world now with the new media. So that is why we talk about responsible and professional journalists, who can take critical views, synthesise them and make them useful for public consumption, rather than just commenting or stating what a lot of us do today on social media.

“I want to use this opportunity also to extend my gratitude to the minister of Information and Communications Mohamed Swaray, who has been tenacious, who believed in what I said. And despite the many obstacles that he came across, he held on to my promise and delivered on it. So, I want to thank him and the leadership of the ministry. It was never easy. And we will continue to make efforts to make sure that our country is a better place. It is not enough. Our efforts as a government are not enough,” he said.

On that note, I want to thank you for considering this award. And I will definitely assure you that insofar as I remain here, we will be critical friends and we will provide the support necessary for you to fight not only to practice but to thrive and be a better organisation. Thank you and I hope that friendship continues,” he ended.

Minister of Information and Communications, who declared the purpose of the event, said the President had rekindled the trust and confidence in the leadership of SLAJ and journalists, particularly as it related to freedom of the press and dignity.

“His Excellency they singled you out for recognition for your relentless efforts and abiding commitment to ensuring a free and unshackled media. You have done a lot for the media. You have dared where others have failed, even though you remain the most castigated, the most vilified the most lampooned presidential candidate in the history of our country. Nobody imagined that you will be rejected as to eventually become the cornerstone, bringing an end to 55 years of speculation, 55 years of trials and tribulations for the media in Sierra Leone,” he said.

President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said: “We had wanted the whole national and regional executives as well as the entire membership of SLAJ to physically join in expressing our profound thanks and appreciation for the repeal of the criminal libel laws.

“We wanted to demonstrate, in our own special way, our grateful thanks, so that you can also join in feeling that sense of freedom, which only those who have been to jail can relate to. For it is when you have been locked up and then released that you can fully appreciate what freedom means and how valuable it is for that fundamental human right to be respected and protected.

“Your Excellency, all Presidents and Junta Heads of State we have had in this country, including your very self, have jailed journalists using the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, but none was brave enough to repeal the law. This was a law that shackled the Sierra Leone media and journalists for 55 odd years,” he said.

SLAJ president said that the criminal libel law was used 99% by successive governments and politicians to cower the media and intimidate and incarcerate journalists to escape being held to account and to clamp down on dissenting views.

He added that the law prevented women from coming into the journalism profession and aspire for leadership positions in the media industry, while also preventing private sector investment in the media and rendering the industry poor.

4 Comments

  1. Absolutely scandalous to see journalism in our country brought so low. How can so-called professionals whose work should in principle be the hallmark of objectivity, of the dispassionate search for and reporting of the truth about our country, be so easily swayed by a crude and cheap offer of bags of rice and drums of cooking oil? Swayed to the point that they are only too ready and willing to declare the donor – an old Sobel and two-time Coupist – a champion of press freedom?

    At play here, clearly, is a politics of the belly; a politics in which bootlicking and buyable journalism is rewarded with edibles to keep the stomach crassly full and happy whilst the fine and noble human qualities of reason, integrity, honesty, sincerity and genuine love of country lose their footholds, sinking and drowning in a sea of messy, ignoble and abominable animalistic urges and cravings. Corrupt journalists and corrupt politicians are certainly natural bedfellows.

  2. President Bio is covering all angles. He is going about it in a subtle way, without rasing any suspicion from the opposition parties. The latest recruit in his grand scheme, or the road to 2023 is Mr Ahmed Sahid Nasralla. The President of SLAJ, and supposedly the fourth estate, that holds the government, or any government to acount, with out being caught in bed with them. Their job description is to be completely independent of any government. Report on the facts and shine a torch on their murky world. In the case of Sierra Leone, Corruption in government. All that now has been placed in the back burner. Anyone who was in doubt about how some of our press is free, should look no further. Right now, it appears for some of our press in Sierra Leone, they have been armed wrestled to submission by Bio. The government, and some of the press are not bed fellows. The fourth estate should be on the side of the people not this failing Bio government or any government. This recognition has emboldened Bio, and his failing policies that are working for Joe Average. Maybe for his cheer leaders – not the rest of independent minded journalists. He has become the cheer leader in chief of this president.

    Since our main opposition parties are already in a state of implosion, the president is playing his cards close to his heart, and waiting for their next move. So far he has managed to out flank them, and set a trap for them. He certainly has his eyes on the ball. Already, judging by his actions, or the lack of it, it all adds up to the ultimate price, to win the 2023 presidential election as this SLAJ accolade seems to play in his hands. The idea that President Bio will gamble with his bid for reelection to the presidency, in 2023 have plunged the amateurish opposition into a guessing game as to what is he is really up to. He seems to be ahead in the curve. Meanwhile, the APC party is increasingly involved in infighting, and inflicting a huge damage to their reputation, as the only credible opposition party capable of electing the next president. They have the organisational skills, the reach in every corner of our country, and the human resources to give this president and SLPP party a run for their money.

    This infighting hasn’t gone unnoticed by Bio and his political strategist at SLPP party headquarters. They are following the events, mesmerised, and elated that some no hopers in the APC party wants to bring the house down. But for Bio, he is clear minded focused on that ultimate price, to be reelected to State House in 2023. This sudden bromance with Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, is just one of the many angles that needed covering, so nothing is taken for granted. His message was if you scratch my back, I will scratch your back as well. Bio is like a chameleon. He can change his colours to fit his environment. Initially, in his first two years in office, he applied the carrot and stick treatment with journalists. He went after Dr Blyden and Mr Sesay, the young man detained for Facebook postings. Then came the Ramadan gift. And for all intents and purposes, the trick apears to be working for Bio, as this award has proven.

  3. The president is lying to the nation saying there is free press or free speech in Sierra leone. To named few; Michael was arrested in Bo town for free speech; Tombo town there is another man on the run for free speech and they ( government) arrested his wife and his brother for free speech. The people’s power is on the run for free speech. so please tell. Mr president bribed some of those people for him to look good.You are a big Loser Mr President.

  4. Hahahaha…champion of Press Freedom huh? Is this the reason why he bribed Mr Nassrallah during the Holy Season Of Ramadan with bags of rice,flour,drinks and other foodstuffs? This wicked President that has been hunting down members of the opposition and keeping them behind bars is a Champion? A Champion over what? Champions are real heroes that protect
    the rights of the vulnerable and the weak; They don’t exploit the nations meagre revenues for their own self-centered purposes but strictly for national interests,stability and progress; Champions do not kill unarmed Prisoners and Youths and remain cold and indifferent about it, neither do they stoke the fires of discontent and tribalism behind the scenes; SLAJ is now a miserable and total failure.

    A lot of these men foolishly think that by brown nosing this inept SLPP President for little gifts, favors and wads of hot cash tucked inside of brown envelopes, they are doing what is necessary for them to survive and keep their dysfunctional, shoddy association afloat in these very hard Covid19 times.(lol) Mr Nasralla has reduced SLAF into a thing of no value,a puppet he has become in the hands of the corrupt Man in State House. A Champion that is also a wanna-be Cowboy? Is it possible? Hahahahaha…Gimme a Break!

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