By Ralph Sesay
The Ministry of Information and Communications, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and its constituents bodies, state and non state actors and the Independent Media Commission, have all expressed their commitment to engage Parliament on Tuesday 17th December, 2019 with a view to convince them why it is necessary for them to repeal the Criminal Libel Law.
The stakeholders made this commitment yesterday during the Ministry of Information and Communications weekly press briefing in Freetown.
The Chairman IMC, George Khoryama during his presentation, gave the background to the 1965 Public Order Act including the reasons for its establishment and commended the government of President Bio for coming this far in attempting to repeal the law.
The IMC boss disclosed that his Commission has completed a tour of radio stations and met newspaper owners and stakeholders in the regions with a view to acquaint them with what is expected of them ahead of the repeal of the 1965 Public Order Act.
Mr.Khoryama noted that there were apprehensions amongst certain quarters that the repeal of the law will create a field day for unprofessional journalism.
He stressed that another set of people are also of the view that it is necessary to welcome the repeal of the law so as to be in tandem with international best practice.
The IMC Chairman also reported that they have discovered legal and regulatory non-compliance from media owners with regards meeting the payment of daily wage for workers, adhering to the NATCOM wattage in terms of the bandwidth of radio stations etc.
Andrew Fatomah from Centre for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), while making a presentation on behalf of the CSOs network stated that the repeal of the law is not only about journalists but also about the economy of the country.
He underscored the point that the law has been very much inimical to private sector investment into the sector.
The CHRDI boss stated that repealing the law will create investment into the sector and thereby provide more jobs for the youths who want to make journalism their trade.
Ransford Wright from the Independent Radio Network entreated Parliamentarians to consider expunging the law from our law books so as to give the country a very positive outlook.
He added that Sierra Leone has assigned to a number of international protocols and agreement which, according to him, are in direct contravention to the Public Order Act.
He implored them to make history by being the MPs that have repealed the obnoxious Public Order Act of 1965.
SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, made a presentation to emphasize the history of the Law, significance for its removal and also illustrating cases which journalists have been jailed and Printing Presses closed.
He called on journalists and other players to turn up in their numbers on Tuesday as a presentation will be made to Parliament on the need for them to repeal the law.
President of Sierra Leone Reporters’ Union, Guild of Editors, Right to Access Information Commission, WIMSAL and others also expressed their commitment to join the clarion call to get MPs to repeal the law.
The climax of the law was the keynote statement and launch of the Call to Action Campaign to Repeal the Criminal Libel Law of 1965 by the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray.
He noted that government is increasingly committed to see the end of the process towards the repeal of the criminal libel law and further disclosed that his ministry and a network of CSOs and SLAJ have held several meetings with donor partners on preparations ahead of the repeal of the ACT.
The Minister re-echoed the support of the leadership in Parliament to get the law repealed even though he emphasized that there may be challenges but that he is hopeful that the law will pass.
He called for a change in strategy from a confrontational approach to a more collaborative strategy.
He called on all CSOs and other critical stakeholders to support the coming presentation in Parliament on Tuesday 17th December, 2019.
By Ralph Sesay