-says British High Commissioner
May 6, 2019
By Ibrahim Tarawallie
British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone has stated that the freedom of the media is the life blood of democracy and can be the bedrock of economic prosperity.
Guy Warrington was speaking on Friday, May 3, 2019 at a symposium organised by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) with support from the Delegation of the European Union at the British Council Auditorium to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day.
The panel discussion was centered around the repeal of the law with a view to urge the current government to fulfill its promise as soon as possible.
World Press Freedom Day is being observed on May 3rd of every year to draw attention to the many challenges facing freedom of expression and of the press across the world.
In his welcome statement, High Commissioner Warrington stated that the world was seeing a dangerous trend with journalists around the world being targeted simply for doing their jobs.
He observed that journalists are being intimidated, attacked, killed, held hostage or put in prison on dubious charges, all in an effort to constrain and restrict their reporting.
“A free media means that your human rights can be protected and the powerful can be held to account. It means that society can be free, fair and open,” he said.
The British envoy noted that 2018 was marked as the deadliest year for journalists, as according to the United Nations, at least 99 journalists and media workers were killed and that non-governmental organizations estimated that over 300 were currently in detention, while around 60 were being held hostage.
He said the United Kingdom is calling on governments around the world to join them in putting the spotlight on media freedom across the globe, as they will be co-hosting a global conference for media freedom with the Canadian government in London from 10-11 July 2019 with the aim of taking meaningful action to defend media freedom.
The event in London, according to Mr. Warrington, will bring together over 1,000 guests, including government ministers and officials, diplomatic community, international agencies and journalists, among others to examine the challenges facing media freedom and the opportunities for a safer environment for journalists.
Also speaking, Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, assured that the criminal and seditious libel law will soon be repealed.
He said they are heartened by the fact that journalists have been yearning for the repeal for a long time and that President Julius Maada Bio will take every practical steps to repeal the law.
“We have heard a lot of consultations with interested parties, including SLAJ and the international community, among others on the issue. The product of which we have table before a pre-cabinet meeting and everybody support the repeal. I want to assure you that by the time the president addresses the United Nations general assembly in September this year, this will be one of the hall marks of his achievements,” he assured.
Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), George Khoryama said: “Freedom of the press does not mean freedom for the pressmen and women only but also for the general populace.”
He said the commission has always thrown his support for a repeal of the law and warned that they will ensure that journalists practice within the act and the media code of practice.
Earlier, SLAJ President, Kelvin Lewis recounted journalists’ experiences with the draconian criminal libel laws over the years since its enactment in 1965.
He urged President Bio to make do his campaign promise of repealing the bad law as it has been over a year now in office.