By Amin Kef Sesay
During a meeting convened on 24 January 2020 by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) at its head office on Campbell Street in Freetown the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swarray and his Deputy Mamadi Ngobeh Kamara reassured members of the Association that the Government of President Bio remains committed to the process of repealing Part 5 of the Public Order Act that deals with Criminal Libel.
The Minister and his Deputy were guests to SLAJ general meeting where pertinent issues, including the status of the ongoing repeal process, were discussed.
Addressing the general membership, Minister Swarray explained Government’s efforts to the process saying that as the Act is now before the House of Parliament, it is at the final stage. He said he and his Deputy have gone the length and would continue to do their ultimate best to lobby Parliament to repeal the obnoxious law.
The Minister, however, charged that more needed to be done in the area of public sensitization on the issue for which he called on the media to take the lead. “The Media need to sensitize the public as to why it is necessary to repeal the criminal aspect of the libel laws. By that you can also further educate the public about the civil aspect of the law that we want to be retained,” he admonished; noting, “The time to repeal is now, and the most committed Government to do it is the Bio led administration!”
Mohamed Rahman Swarray said there was no better moment than now. “SLAJ at this particular moment needs the repeal because Journalists are not criminals,” he posited. He, therefore, encouraged Editors, Station Managers and Media owners to dedicate airtime and space in their daily broadcasts and publications to educate the public on how the process was going and what outcome is expected.
“Let me once again say it that President Bio is commitment to decriminalizing the libel laws but much is also expected of journalists which are professionalism and objectiveness in your day-to-day practice,” he cautioned.
Deputy Minister and seasoned journalist, Mamadi Ngobeh Kamara noted that “once a journalist, always a Journalist,” and hence, was in full support and longing for what she referred to as ‘a swift repeal of the Libel laws’ to consolidate ‘our democracy’.
President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Ahmed Sahid Nassralla thanked the Ministers for attending their first general meeting for 2020. He pleaded with them to do the correct thing and leave a legacy. He said Journalism is not a criminal pursuit but a decent profession and hence, practitioners must not be criminalized.
He promised that media institutions would engage in sensitization of the process for the public to get a better understanding of what they were asking for as journalists.