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Sierra Leone News: SLAJ thwarted over refusal to include media chapter in Constitution

SLAJ Sec. Gen.

SLAJ Sec. Gen.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Secretary General Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said they are disappointed with the government for their outright refusal to grant the media a new chapter in the Constitution.
The current context of Section 11; ‘Obligations of the Mass Media’ reads thus… “The press, radio and television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Constitution and highlight the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
The Association recommendation through the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) was for a chapter titled “Information, Communication and the Media”, which will entail detailed provisions of the press, media freedom and independence, no state interference, and establishment, composition and functions of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) be included in the Constitution.
“We were thwarted by this decision just as we are with the lack of willingness by the government to repeal the criminal libel law. It is a big blow to freedom of expression and press in Sierra Leone,” said Nasralla.
SLAJ will be coming out very soon with their position after a meeting of the Press Freedom Committee of SLAJ. “This Committee held nationwide consultations before the drafting of that chapter, we will meet with them and then the general membership. It is the people’s voice and any government that does not listen to the people’s voice should be very careful. The quantum of money spent on this process is huge and they have ended by rejecting almost all the recommendations therein. This is just a wastage of much needed funds,” Nasralla ended.
The government response in the White Paper, noted that it is of the view that the fundamental freedoms set out in the Constitution are all embracing, and that they consider the IMC Act, 2000 which establishes the IMC as an autonomous body to promote and regulate a free and pluralistic media and to ensure the highest level of efficiency in the provision of media services, etc.
And that, the Access to Information Act 2013 cumulatively addresses the matters recommended above and therefore should not be included in the Constitution. As a result, the government said that they will not propose any additional chapter but will retain the prevailing provisions in the 1991 Constitution.
The CRC also recommended that under the theme Protection of Freedom of Expression and the Press, that the freedom of expression and the press be made an absolute right: Section 25 (1).
The government response is that the existing provision of the freedom of expression and the press within the limits permitted by the law is balanced and adequate. An unbridled right to freedom of expression and the press will serve as a platform to trample on the human rights of others, which is unacceptable in a civilized and democratic society.
The CRC report stated that the right to freedom of the press and freedom of information should be exercised responsibly with regards to public order and good morals. The majority of submissions called for a standalone chapter in the revised Constitution guaranteeing press freedom and freedom of speech.
Stakeholders also recommended that the Right to Access Information Act 2013 should be made an entrenched clause in the revised Constitution. While some stakeholders called for the repeal of the Public Order Act of 1965, other suggested that Part V of that Act should be strengthened.
ZJ/28/11/17
By Zainab Joaque
Wednesday November 29, 2017.

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