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Censorship at its peak: Guild of Editors takes on Parliament bigotry

May 20, 2020

By Jariatu S. Bangura

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Chairman, Guild of Newspaper Editors, Donald Theo Harding

In what many described as an attempt to muzzle the media by no less an institution but the House of Sierra Leone Parliament, the Guild of Editors (SL) has stoutly demanded an immediate review of the eligibility criteria set out by the Clerk of Parliament to allow journalists to be reporting on the activities of the House of Parliament.

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Parliament had demanded, among other things, CV and photocopies of relevant documents including academic qualification of at least a diploma in Mass Communication/Journalism or any other discipline from a recognized University/College, media practitioner for at least a period of two years, photocopy of a valid operational licenses granted by the Independent Media Commission, and being a member of SLAJ or having practised for several years is an advantage.

In a press release issued in response to the above notice, the Guild of Newspaper Editors noted that, it is their considered position that the eligibility criteria set out by the Clerk of Parliament should be the sole function of SLAJ or any of the professional bodies regulating journalists in Sierra Leone.

‘‘Consequently, we view the latest request by Parliament as a form of censorship and a calculated attempt to muzzle free and independent press in Sierra Leone. The Guild of Newspaper Editors, therefore, calls for an immediate review of the eligibility  criteria set out in the aforementioned press release with the view to granting journalists an unfettered access to parliamentary proceedings,” the release reiterated.

‘‘While the Guild understands the need for credible and accurate reporting of parliamentary proceedings, we note that setting out such eligibility criteria for journalists is tantamount to an unjustified restriction of their access to parliamentary proceedings.’’

The release cited journalistic associations such as the Guild of Newspaper Editors, the Sierra Leone Reporters Union, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, which assist in regulating the conduct and practice of journalists in Sierra Leone.

‘‘There is also the Independent Media Commission, a body set up by an act of Parliament, to regulate the media.”

The Guild drew the attention of the Clerk of Parliament to Section 25 (1) of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone, which states that, “Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purpose of this section, the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, freedom from interference with his correspondence…”

They also cited the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Sierra Leone is a signatory and many other international human rights instruments guarantee citizens’ right to hold their government to account.