‘Don’t start another war’
SEPTEMBER 17, 2014 By Jariatu Bangura and Samuel J. Kargbo
President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has warned Members of Parliament not to start “another war” in the country, especially as the nation is currently united and focused on fighting a debilitating war brought about by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 400 Sierra Leoneans.
The SLAJ president, Kelvin Lewis, was yesterday summoned by members who were apparently dissatisfied with the reportage of some practitioners whom they accuse of reporting ‘untruth’ and failure to crosscheck their news stories during the public emergency, but the journalists’ boss would not be cowed by what was an apparent threat from the House.
Addressing the parliamentarians, Mr. Lewis said a good number of stories published especially on the social media are not coming from professional journalists but rather “individuals who are concerned about the manner in which some of these resources are utilized by Members of Parliament”.
He said his association had held series of meetings with media practitioners across the country for them not to focus more on the funding to MPs but rather to embark on the continuous sensitization of various communities on the deadly outbreak.
“I want to caution you not to start another war when there is already an Ebola [war] to fight,” Lewis told the seemingly livid lawmakers, who had threatened to shutdown media houses they deem are contravening provisions of the state of emergency. “I will admonish you not to go ahead with your planned action against media houses but to find a way of amending the situation.”
The SLAJ prexy further reminded the MPs that journalists are in the frontline in the fight against the Ebola virus in the country, and are the vanguards in sensitizing Sierra Leoneans about the epidemic.
“This is definitely not the right time for MPs to shutdown media institutions in the country,” he warned.
He alluded to a statement made by Hon. Paramount Chief Kebbie that a certain cabinet minister had told paramount chiefs in Pujehun that government had given their colleagues in Parliament funds from which they were to disburse Le5 million to each chief in the district, which according to the SLAJ president was not true, yet lawmakers did not attribute the statement to all cabinet ministers.
Instead, he said, MPs would always point fingers at all journalists when one of them publishes an article that is not satisfactory to government officials.
In his statement, the Minister of Defence, Alfred Palo Conteh, described the Independent Media Commission (IMC) as “a paper tiger without a tail” for not taking action against journalists whom he alleged had published defamatory stories against him.
“When journalists are being taken to the court of law, they will either oppose you because you are a minister or continue with their publication,” he said.
Speaking earlier, the Majority Leader of Parliament, Hon. Ibrahim Bundu, commended the SLAJ president for attending the meeting, which he said has to do with current happenings in the country.
He recalled that on 31 July government, through the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, issued a public notice to Parliament in respect of the Public Emergency invoked by the President which they approved, following the 1991 Constitution, as part of efforts to eradicate the Ebola virus.
He said MPs have also visited their various constituencies to sensitize constituents on the spread and prevention of the deadly disease and to their greatest disappointment, despite the public emergency, business is still carried on as usual, while the movement of people from place to place is on the increase, which according to him violates public emergency provisions.
He noted that issues of national importance should not be debated ‘unnecessarily’ by the public as a result of the public emergency, adding that as MPs, they are very much interested in sensitizing their constituents on the Ebola outbreak without any hindrance.
Minority Leader, Hon. Bernadette Lahai, said every Sierra Leonean has a responsibility to protect the peace and tranquility of the country in their daily lives as “this is a crucial moment for the country”.
She said all efforts should be directed towards the eradication of Ebola in Sierra Leone and not on ‘trivialities’.