Sierra Leone parliament debates new laws to replace seditious libel law

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 July 2020:

There is at long last, a ray of hope in Sierra Leone for journalists as members of parliament yesterday debated the repeal of Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965 (Act No.46 of 1965) which has been used by politicians of varying colours to harass, intimidate and persecute journalists in the country.

The Public Order Act of 1965 (Act No.46 of 1965) was ironically brought into law by the SLPP government of prime minister Albert Margai, ostensibly to reign in the opposition APC, four years after the country gained independence in 1961.

After many broken promises by successive governments to repeal the laws, the SLPP government of president Julius Maada Bio has tabled both the Public Order Amendment Act 2020 and The Independent Media Commission Act 2020 in parliament, and if approved, will replace Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965 (Act No.46 of 1965) – the laws relating to defamation and seditious libel.

Presenting the proposed Public Order Amendment Act 2020 to MPs, the Minister of Information and Communication – Mohamed Rahman Swaray (Photo), said the purpose of the Bill is to amend the Public Order Act of 1965 (Act No.46 of 1965) by repealing Part V which criminalizes defamation and seditious libel.

The Minister said that the repeal would enhance the development of the media and noted that for far too long the criminal libel law has been in our law books and has hugely affected and deterred the growth of the media in the country.

The Minister also said that a repeal of this law would encourage the private sector and provide them the opportunity to invest in the media landscape, as he seek to allay the fears of citizens by referring to existing laws that would serve as safeguards in protecting their hard earned reputation.

Contributing to the debate prior to committal, Hindolo M. Gevao MP of the SLPP supported the repeal process and said journalists would want to perform their work without fear for their lives. He referred to the criminal libel law as an old law that has strongly affected the development of the media industry, and praised President Bio for his commitment to rescind the criminal libel law as promised in his 201 8 election manifesto.

Ibrahim Ben Kargbo MP of the opposition APC spoke about past journalists who he said contributed to the development of the media landscape. He said the 1965 Act has been used by successive governments to send prominent people to jail, and recalled efforts of media practitioners who had earlier championed the repeal process. He said as an opposition party they are in total support of the repeal process and praised President Bio and the Minister of information and Communication for what he referred to as “a positive work done”.

Chief Whip of Parliament – Dickson M. Rogers MP, also supported the repeal process and urged colleague MPs not to politicize the debate, but to give support because it is not contentious and is aimed at the development of the media. He encouraged the Mass Communication Department at Fourah Bay College to step up and compete with other Departments for the professional development of journalists in Sierra Leone.

Shiaka Musa Sama – an Independent MP from Pujehun, said he supports the repeal not because they as MPs are doing it in favour of journalists but serving the interest of the people. He commended the President and the Minister for standing by their manifesto promise to repeal the criminal libel laws which other governments have failed to accomplish.

Catherine Zainab Tarawally of APC said it is a momentous day for the media and praised the hard work of SLAJ and the Government for the repeal process, and urged media practitioners to be diligent in executing their duties.

Abdul Kargbo of the APC said the law which criminalizes seditious libel should not be part of the democratic governance of our country. He said even though Parliament is willing to repeal the obnoxious law, he called for the rights of the citizens to be protected and respected as provided by law.

Abdul Karim Kamara of the APC said posterity would judge those who enacted the criminal libel law, and the quick repeal of the law must take into consideration the protection of the rights of the citizens.

Samuel Panda of the SLPP said there are good laws as well as bad ones. He said to repeal the law, Parliament should be cautious and ensure the laws of the state are respected and honoured.

Mohamed Bangura of the APC said it is a memorable day for the repeal of the law, and noted that they are in full support of it because the law has affected the APC so badly. He commended the Government for the initiative to eliminate a bad law in the governance system of the country.

The Deputy Leader of Government Business – Bashiru Silikie MP, said that during the election campaign, President Bio promised the people of Sierra Leone to repeal the bad law in the books of our country. He commended the President for the efforts made thus far to deliver on his promise to the people through the repeal of the criminal libel laws. He urged the media to carry out their work with a deep sense of responsibility.

Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella – Leader of the NGC, said that as a party they are in support of press freedom, and acknowledged the tremendous backing of MPs in the repeal process. He called for safeguarding and protection against blackmail by journalists.

The leader of C4C – Saa Emerson Lamina, said his party is fully in support of the repeal process and commended the Government for taking a bold step towards decriminalizing seditious libel.

Parliamentary leader of the opposition APC – Chernor Bah, commended the Minister of Information and Communications and his team for achieving a significant milestone in the process of repealing the criminal libel law. He also commended the past presidents of SLAJ for championing the process and applauded former presidents Kabbah and Koroma’s administration for championing and developing the media industry in the country, as he expressed support for the repeal and urged the Government to address the issue surrounding dual citizenship.

Concluding, Leader of Government of Business –  Mathew Nyuma, commended his colleague MPs for what he referred to as “a positive debate on the Bill”. He recalled how he was lambasted by media practitioners for withdrawing the Bill on procedural grounds. He said he did so for the smooth governance of the State. He commended previous governments for initiating the repeal the process.

He also said as a Government they are committed to fulfilling the promises they made to the people for the development of the country. He remarked, “we are making history to see that the media houses live up to expectations”. “This is not the time for politics, but the time for development”, he stressed. He warned media practitioners to uphold the law and avoid any form of premature publication.

In another related development, Parliamentarians  also debated and committed the Bill entitled: “The Independent Media Commission Act 2020” to the Legislative Committee for further scrutiny.

It is a Bill that provides for the continuation of the Independent Media Commission, to provide for the registration and regulation of the mass media institutions in Sierra Leone, licensing of persons and institutions engaged in radio, television or direct to home digital satellite service broadcasting and registration of persons and institutions engaged in the publication of newspapers, magazines and newsletters in sierra Leone and to provide for other related matters.

Presenting the Bill, the Minister said that the Bill is divided into eight parts including its preliminary, continuation of the commission, objects, functions and powers of commission, administrative provisions, financial provisions, licensing and registration, newspapers, magazines and newsletters, obligation to employ registered journalists, editors and station managers and miscellaneous provisions.

MPs who spoke to the motion acknowledged the efforts of the Government to promote the media as well as protect and safeguard the rights of the citizens.

Other MPs who spoke to the motion referred to the Bill as serious and critical and called for total adherence to laws for the safety of the citizens.

Leaders of Political Parties commended the initiative of the Government to ensure that the rights of the citizens are protected, and observed that enormous powers have been given to the IMC.

Following the second reading and debate, both the Public Order Amendment Act 2020 and The Independent Media Commission Act 2020 were then committed to the Legislative Committee for further scrutiny before they can come back to the full House for approval to become Law.

2 Comments

  1. May the Almighty continue to bless the Minister of Information Mr. Mohamed Rahman Swaray for the fulfillment of one of the manifesto promises in the agenda of the New Direction government. This will be added on the “To do list” and will be checked positive with the Free quality education, fight against corruption fight against lawlessness, and the fight against poverty.

  2. Is good to see section five of the 1965 Act of libel, and sedition Act is finally being debated, with the aim of nullifying it in the statuet books. One cannot underestimate the importance of the repealing of this deconian law, that was bought in by Sir Albert Margai, in the vain hope of suppressing the oppositions APC party, under then opposition leader Pa S. Stevens. Ironically, the old APC Stevens government and subsequent governments, turned the Act on its head and used it for their own benefit to suppress press freedom. At the time, there were lot of stories pedalled about that the APC government enforcer in chief against unruly journalists, was a feared mafia thug that’s goes by the street name “HIGH WAY”.

    Under the old APC government, many newspaper proprietors, were at the receiving end of volience and political intimidation from hired thugs like that to attack them. And in some cases burn down their printing houses, just because the government of the day dids not like the stories they ran in their papers. The most famous one in the 1980s, was the TABLET NEWSPAPER. Once the Act is repeal, responsible journalists and media house owners, should leran to self regulate themselves. Given the unethical behaviour of some of the media houses that published on party political lines, it will be difficult to see how they will self regulate themselves. To tackle this problem the government should set up an independent media watchdog with powers to investigate offenders. For example if an MP is not happy with certain publications of alleged corruption or his private life, he or she can be compliant. Especially stories that can be proven to be libellous.

    So matters like that can be investigated.And if necessary, the media watchdog can issue fines against repeat offenders. I think that way, it would be far better to resolve issues like that, than drag newspapers proprietors in a court room and try and framed them with none existence felonies .Or worst,use the Sierra Leone police and the courts as the regulators of the media. The Sierra Leone police should not be used to break into people’s homes. The courts are besieged with other cases, so we don’t want to see journalists making the news, instead we want them to bring the news to us. The option of suing journalist can remain open, but only apply in extreme cases. May God Bless the Republic of Sierra Leone.

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