The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on Saturday February 22 concluded a two days training for journalists and civil society activists in Freetown on the 1965 Public Order Act (POA).
The training was made possible through a US$8,775 grant provided by the United States Embassy in Freetown, and the training was the final in a series of workshops being organised by SLAJ to train journalists on the criminal libel and defamation laws. Two trainings had earlier been concluded in Bo and Makeni for journalists and civil society members in the three regions.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, SLAJ President, Kelvin Lewis, thanked the American Embassy, and particularly its Public Affairs Officer, Boa Lee, for patiently seeing the Executive through the very challenging hurdles in acquiring the grant.
He pointed out that: “Even though the public sees journalists as people that hold the big stick and want them [to use that stick] to whip those corrupt officials, selfish and unpatriotic people as well as politicians to behave properly, they will be the first to crucify us when we step over the line.”
According to him, the SLAJ Executive believes that the first step in the transformation of the journalism profession in the country is when journalists believe in what they do, act on their beliefs and get people to believe in them and what they want to do.
“Let us turn away from personal attacks. Let us suppress the urge to go after individuals to reduce them in the eyes of the public. I know it can be difficult. Ours is a thankless job,” he beseeched.
The SLAJ president maintained that journalists have a duty to ensure that they speak for those whose “voices cannot rise above the noise of the market place”, but stressed that there are journalists who – for little pennies or to please their political sponsors – go after people to destroy their hard won credibility. He said the two-day training would help participants to better understand the dos and don’ts in the POA to help them avoid the pitfalls in the law that would land them in jail.
In his keynote address, the Executive Director of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Ibrahim Tommy, noted that the training couldn’t have come at a better time, especially as Sierra Leonean journalists are being arrested and detained under the defamation and seditious libel law.
He however encouraged journalists to work within the law, no matter how obnoxious the laws might be at the moment, but at the same time called for more acceptable standards in holding journalists accountable. He urged President Ernest Bai Koroma to fulfill his commitment of reviewing or amending part five (5) of the 1965 Public Order Act.
One of the facilitators, Dr. Victor Massaquoi, stated that the training will help to encourage radio stations and newspapers to air/publish issues designed to thwart defamatory and seditious libel.
Lecturer at the Mass Communication Department at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, Francis Sowa, delivered a presentation on the roles and responsibilities of journalists, while lawyers Ansu B. Lansana and Joseph Egbenda Kapuwa took participants through the initial steps of the “dos and don’ts of the POA”.
Moses A. Kargbo
National Secretary General
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