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Sierra Leone News: SLAJ cautions media practitioners

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has cautioned media practitioners that if they are to achieve the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, it does not mean they are now above the law. In a Press Release issued by the SLAJ National Secretariat, titled “Renewed Hope for the Future” to usher in the new year, the Association noted that there is also in the country’s law books the Civil Defamation Act of 1961, “which we have been referencing in response to the call for a replacement of the criminal libel law.” “The civil defamation law does not criminalise our work, but will require us to pay damages/compensation when we are found guilty of acts relating to defamation/libel.” The release further pointed out that through the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), with funds from UNDP and NED, “we have been going around the country sensitising our colleagues for a better understanding of this particular law,” it reads. SLAJ will continue to emphasise the need for self-regulation and “that does not mean self-censorship, but, adhering to the tenets that guide the profession. “Self-regulation starts with you the individual journalist- the values you bring to your work and the way you conduct yourself on every platform, including social media; the media house you work for- their editorial policy; the Code of Ethics governing your membership in SLAJ and the IMC Code of Practice regulating your work as a professional journalist.” The release went further to draw attention to the eight commitments made by the current Government in their manifesto, towards the development of the country’s struggling media and states “so far they have shown convincing indications that they would fulfil their promises,” SLAJ said. “A Cabinet paper on the repeal of the criminal libel law is now ready for Executive approval; from there it should make its way to the Sierra Leone Parliament as soon as possible. As it promised, the Government has also approved a subvention for SLAJ.” This was further reaffirmed by President Julius Maada Bio’s New Year’s Speech in which he said the government will continue to open up democratic spaces in order to strengthen the country’s democracy. “We will repeal the Criminal Libel Law and continue to assure the Freedom of the Press,” President Bio stressed. However, this goodwill from the current Government, SLAJ said, should not in any way be misconstrued as incentive to compromise their independence, but it should be regarded as a legitimate obligation of the State to enhance the capacity of the media to be able to provide the checks and balances needed for our democracy to grow healthily.  The release also highlighted a concern that has surfaced in the decade or so, in which SLAJ stated that politicians have invaded the profession to the extent that media practitioners now blindly support political parties in the hope of getting rewarded with lucrative appointments when their party assumes power. “The negative effect this has on independent journalism is there for all to see. Truth and objectivity have been sacrificed on the altar of political interests. Our unity and strength as an Association is largely threatened.” The Association fault practitioners that instead of siding with the people, they are in conspiracy with the politicians, “whilst its everyone’s right (including journalists themselves) to support a political party of their choice, as professional media practitioners our loyalty should be to the people, whose collective interests and well-being we must promote and protect at all times” it presages. Media practitioners, they say, can help political parties, especially the governing party, to make the right decisions by proffering alternatives but we must not allow our media to be used as public address systems to promote hate, disunity, tribalism, regionalism and in effect instability. “We must hold strong to our gate-keeping and agenda-setting functions in the interest of the general good.”

ZJ/5/1/19

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Monday January 07, 2019.

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