May 21, 2019
By Yusufu S. Bangura
The Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) with support from the Endowment for Democracy and the Independent Media Commission (IMC) last Friday launched the second press freedom report which covers the period of December 2018 to May 2019, with the theme “Enhancing Press Freedom and Reforms of Media Laws”.
The launching took place at Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) headquarters on Campbell Street.
Chairman of MRCG, Dr. Francis Sowa said the report covers the period of December 2018 to May 2019 and that it monitored press freedom and freedom of expression in Sierra Leone.
He said the report covers the arrests, detentions and prosecution of journalists and civil society activists and also track media performance in the country.
Dr.Francis Sowa said the report is divided into different areas including the arrests and detention of journalists and civil society activities, guarantee of freedom of expression and of the press, regulating bodies for electronic and print media, telecommunications, performance of media institutions, and status of media laws in Sierra Leone among others.
He stated that the report has been produced from the monitoring of issues relating to freedom of expression and of the press, broadcast on radio and television, and published articles in newspapers or social media post like Facebook and WhatsApp.
The MRCG Chairman said the report captured the arrest and detention of Alpha Thorley of the Night Watch Newspaper, attack on two AYV journalists- Augusta Ethel Turay and Alie Kamara, death threat against the BBC’s correspondent Umaru Fofanah, attack on and intimidation of civil society leaders, including the Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Marcella Samba, among host of other cases.
He noted that the MRCG has followed cases which were reported in the first edition of press freedom.
He added that they have found out that the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) had investigated three of the five new cases being monitored, but none of them had been charged to court.
He said as at the time of reporting in May 2019, there were reports of five journalists who were to be arraigned in court on criminal libel-related charges.
Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), George S. Khoryama said the functions of the MRCG were a mirror-image of those of the IMC in the pursuit of having a vibrant, efficient and responsible media in Sierra Leone as the MRCG monitors and caters for press freedom in the country among other functions.
He said the IMC regulate the media to ensure that it achieved the highest level of efficiency in the provision of their media services, adding that they also protect both the interest of the public and journalists against any form of exploitation.
He said the period covering the second report of the MCRG coincided with the period that they assumed office, and that they have been overwhelmed with complaints from the public against journalists for defamation, libel and all forms of inaccurate and bias reporting.
The IMC Chairman said most media houses have refused to cooperate with them by failing to renew their yearly licenses, paying up their arrears dating as far back as 2014.
“We recently fined 11 media houses and journalists for breach of the IMC media code of conduct. Guest what? Only two of them paid the fines but refused to retract and apologise as stated in the IMC Code of practice,” he said.
He said their mandate was not only to investigate complaints and impose fines, but also to critically examine the state of the Sierra Leone press and its role in the society, the challenges that confront it and improvement that may be required for the effective performance of its responsibilities.
“Our confidence in the sustained professional and technical relationship between the MRCG and the IMC is anchored on the premise that the chairman of the former is also a commissioner at the IMC-Dr. Francis Sowa,” he said.
Secretary-General of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nassalla, thanked MRCG for the report they gathered and noted that the second report was very important as it talked about press freedom and freedom of expression for all journalists and civil society activities in the country.
He said in the previous report issued in 2018, the MRCG reported that there were gender improvement and progress on the capacity of the media institutions.
He promised to have a good working relationship with the police so that they would keep track of all the cases that have been outlined in both reports.
He said they would continue popularize the media code of ethics, thus encouraging members to go by the rules of the IMC in any platform they found themselves.