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IMC to appeal against Philip Neville High Court victory

March 3, 2016  By Alusine Sesay

Chairman of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) has told pressmen that the commission would appeal against a ruling that went in favour of Mr. Philip Neville, pronounced by Justice Alusine Sesay of the Freetown High Court.

Justice Sesay on 24 February ruled against the IMC and ordered them to refund a Le1,000,000 fine it had levied against the Executive Editor of Standard Times, Philip Neville, for defamation. The judge also ordered that the commission pay cost to Mr. Neville, although the exact amount is yet to be agreed on by opposing counsel.

Mr. Neville had instructed his lawyer to file an application to the High Court to quash a decision by the IMC against him in 2015 with regards complaints, following a publication in his newspaper.

His lawyer, Radcliffe A.D. Jones, sought an order for prohibition to restrain the chairperson of the complaints committee at the IMC, Melinda Davies, from presiding on pending matters against Standard Times Newspaper, Mr. Phillip Neville or any of his staff at the Media One Centre.

Mr. Neville had alleged injustice because one of the panelists, Melinda Davies, was biased against him.

Although the High Court has since ruled in favour of Mr. Neville, Chairman of IMC, Ambassador Allieu Kanu, has vowed to challenge the ruling in the appellate court.

“We are going to take a robust appeal against the ruling of Justice Alusine Sesay. With all due respect to the learned Justice, we believe he had made a mistake in his ruling,” averred Amb. Kanu.

He maintained the former chairperson of the commission’s complaint committee was in no way biased against Mr. Neville because she had no personal relationship with the Executive Editor of Standard Times and never knew him before.

He said the IMC lawyers have looked at the ruling and that he had written his opinion, which he would hand over to the lawyers for onward appeal against the ruling.

Meanwhile, as part of his restructuring efforts at the media regulatory body, he said Commissioner Sam Bayoh has now replaced Melinda Davies as chair of the Complaint Committee. He disclosed that plans were underway to put certain stringent measures in place for the registration of newspapers, adding that they would now come down heavily on newspaper editors who fail to adhere to the media code of ethics.

“We are going to take certain measures, including some stringent screening, before awarding license for the establishment of newspapers,” said Amb. Kanu.

The IMC is being referred to as toothless bulldog for their seeming failure to effectively and impartially regulate the media in Sierra Leone, devoid of political interference.

According to one of the commissioners, James Williams, some newspaper editors had on several occasions refused to retract stories, despite being ordered to do so by the commission, adding that they had taken no action because they did not want to be seen as draconian.

But the chairman insists that, “We are going to come down heavily on newspapers and anybody would no longer refer to us as toothless bulldogs.”

Meanwhile, he said the commission has resurrected the ‘lukewarm’ relationship it had with the international community, adding that UNESCO recently provided funds to them to put together guidelines on Ebola reporting.

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