By Amin Kef Sesay
The Parliament of Sierra Leone on Thursday 16th July 2020, exhaustively debated and committed the Bills entitled: “The Public Order Amendment Act 2020 and The Independent Media Commission Act 2020”, to the Legislative Committee for further scrutiny.
The Act is seeking to amend the Public Order Act of 1965 (Act No.46 of 1965) by repealing Part V, which deals with defamation and seditious libel and to provide for other related matters.
Piloting the Bill, the Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, said the objective 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 among other things 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, and allayed the fears of citizens by referring to existing laws that would serve as safeguards in the light of protecting their hard earned reputation.
Contributing to the debate prior to committal, Hon. Hindolo M. Gevao of SLPP supported the repeal process and said journalists would want to perform their work without fear for their lives and referred to criminal libel law as an old law that has strongly affected the development of the media industry. He praised President Bio for his commitment to rescind the criminal libel law, as promised in his manifesto dubbed “The New Direction or The Peoples Manifesto”.
Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo of APC recognized past journalists who had contributed to the development of the media landscape. He said the 1965 POA is evident of sending prominent people to jail, and recalled the efforts of media practitioners who had earlier championed the repeal process. He said that 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, Hon. Dickson M. Rogers also supported the repeal process and urged colleague MPs not to politicize it, but to support it, because it is not contentious and is aimed at the development of the media. He encouraged the Mass Communication Department at FBC to step up and compete with other Departments for the professional development of journalists in Sierra Leone after the repeal process.
Hon. Shiaka Musa Sama, an Independent MP from Pujehun, supported the repeal and observed they are not doing favours to the media, but as MPs, they are 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.
Hon. 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, adding that it is a unique day for the media and urged media practitioners to do the needful in executing their duties.
Hon. Abdul Kargbo of APC said the law which criminalizes seditious libel should not be part of the democratic governance of the 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.
Hon. Abdul Karim Kamara of APC said posterity would judge those who enacted the criminal libel law and observed that the quick repeal of the law must take into consideration the protection of the rights of the citizens.
Hon. Samuel Panda of 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.
Hon. Mohamed Bangura of 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, Hon. Bashiru Silikie, said during the 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 law in our books. He urged the media to carry out their work with a deep sense of responsibility.
Hon. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, Leader of 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 the safeguards of the people’s rights to be protected, preserved, respected and not to be blackmailed by journalists.
Leader of C4C, Hon. Saa Emerson Lamina, said his party is fully in support of the repeal process and commended the Government for taking a bold step to decriminalize seditious libel.
Leader of Opposition, Hon. Chernor Bah, commended the Minister and his team for achieving significant milestones in the process of repealing the criminal libel law. He also commended the past Presidents of SLAJ for championing the process and also applauded former Presidents Kabbah and Koroma’s administration for championing and developing the media industry in the country. He also supported the repeal and urged the Government to address the issue surrounding dual citizenship.
Concluding, Leader of Government of Business, Hon. 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 the past governments for initiating the repeal process. He also said that as a Government, they are committed to fulfilling the promises they had 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 publications.
In another development, the Parliament of Sierra Leone has also debated and committed the Bill entitled: “The Independent Media Commission Act 2020” to the Legislative Committee for further scrutiny.
It is an Act 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 engage 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 highlighted its importance and stated the position of Government in the light of protecting its citizens. He said 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.
In summation, both media related Bills have been read the second time and duly committed to the Legislative Committee for further scrutiny.