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“Criminal & seditious libel laws continue to chill space for media practice”

May 19, 2017 By Ibrahim Tarawallie

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Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai

Executive Director of the Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI),  yesterday stated that the existence of the criminal and seditious libel sections in the 1965 Public Order Act continue to chill space for effective media practice in the country.

Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai was speaking at the official launch of SDI’s 2016 State of the Media Report titled: “The Independence of the Media Enhances Democracy and Good Governance: A call for the repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel laws in the 1965 Public Order Act.”

The 2016 report records several crackdowns on practitioners and media institutions and also proffers recommendations to be implemented by the government and other institutions.  The first State of the Media report was launched in 2008.

According to lawyer Abdulai, for over a decade now they have been calling on government to have those laws repealed, because they hinder the practice of journalism in the country.

He claimed that the media has been under pressure to conform to certain demands by politicians and government officials, adding that the independence of the media would enhance the country’s democratic values and good governance.

“We believe that a journalist should not go to jail for writing and publishing stories. The media has a significant role to play in our democratic society and as such, journalists should be free to do what they are ought to do,” he said.

He opined that the practice of journalism could only be enhanced through a civil libel law, thus calling on President Ernest Bai Koroma to make- do his promise by repealing the laws before he leaves office next year.

Even though economic situation and lack of investment, among others, have been the challenges of the media over the years, the legal luminary strongly believes that things could be changed, because the media has to be vibrant in order to be the instrument of change.

While expressing grave concern with regards the crackdown on journalists and media institutions, the SDI boss urged journalists to take themselves seriously by not allowing politicians to override them.

Before launching the report, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Kelvin Lewis, commended SDI for putting together the report and urged journalists to look at it, especially the recommendations.

“For me, not much has change for the past years. Generally, the conditions under which journalists work has remain the same. We have faced the same economic and political challenges, as well as marginalization of not supporting a particular political group,” he said.

He said because free speech has been criminalized by the 1965 Public Order Act, it does give jurisdiction to police to hunt journalists, which is why they want the criminal and seditious libel sections to the repealed.

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