Prezo Monk:Stop the attacks on journalists!

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Statement by SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, on World Press Freedom Day 2024

Date: 3rd May 2024

As we join the rest of the world in commemorating World Press Freedom Day 2024, we recognize the tremendous gains made over the years in promoting and protecting freedom of expression and of the press, and media development in Sierra Leone.

The historic repeal of the criminal libel law in 2021 set the foundation for all these gains we have made and continue to make.

We organized the first-ever media viability and investment conference in April 2022, with support from the BBC Media Action, the Government of Sierra Leone, and the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG). The outcome of the national conference is the 7-point National Action Plan which we now refer to as the blueprint for media development in the country.

We have established the National Fund for Public Interest Media (NaFPIM) with support from the International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM), the BBC Media Action, MRCG, and the Government of Sierra Leone. The fund seeks to promote public interest journalism and capacitate journalists and their media houses to hold the government and its agencies accountable transparently and responsibly.

In the run-up to the June 24, 2023, national elections we launched the SLAJ Media Manifesto: ‘The Media We Want- A Manifesto for an Empowered and Inclusive Media in Sierra Leone’ with support from the European Union through IDEA International. This manifesto consolidates the significant gains made in the last five years. It represents our collective vision and aspiration as journalists for the media we want in the coming years.

Before the June elections, we launched the I-Verify and the SLAJ SuperNewsRooms, with support from the UNDP and partners and the National Democratic Institute, respectively. Both platforms supported countering disinformation and promoted information integrity during the elections and beyond.

In September 2023 we launched the first-ever Gender Equality Policy for the media with support from the Embassy of Ireland. This policy seeks to address the historical and cultural gender imbalance in the media in Sierra Leone.

The Government of Sierra Leone since 2018 continues to provide annual subvention to support the operations of SLAJ and its affiliate bodies.

These gains we have made were a result of our change of approach from being aggressive or confrontational to engaging in constructive dialogue with the Government of Sierra Leone without mortgaging our independence and our fundamental role of holding them to account, as well as working together as industry players to address the myriad of challenges facing the media in Sierra Leone.

The RSF’s World Press Freedom Index 2024 released this morning shows Sierra Leone moved 10 places upwards from 74 in 2023 to 64 in 2024.

However, despite these developments, we still have a long way to go in advocating for increased press freedom and protection of journalists’ rights, promoting ethical standards and professional development among members, and contributing to public awareness and civic education on the importance of journalism in society, and achieving a conducive environment for journalists to do their work without hindrance and unfettered.

Since the repeal of the Criminal Libel law, there has not been any major arrest or detention of journalists concerning their work. We have moved from frequenting the CID and the police to secure bail for our colleagues every weekend to focusing our strength and resources on other areas of media development.

Our biggest challenge at the moment, however, is journalists’ safety, journalists’ welfare, and online threats and intimidations faced by journalists. Whilst we have made some progress in addressing salaries and social security contributions for journalists through the new IMC Act, we continue to push for the consolidation and re-engineering of the industry in light of the global economic crisis and our quest for media viability and investment in the sector. We strongly believe it will translate to viable media outlets and better working conditions for journalists.

We continue to appeal to the Government, politicians, and law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of journalists at all times.

Please help stop the increasing online attacks on journalists!

In line with the global theme of “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis”, we urge journalists to continue to raise awareness and public education on protecting and preserving our environment, tracking the government’s efforts in achieving the UNSDG 13 and highlighting the gaps and challenges.

This morning in collaboration with the US Embassy in Sierra Leone we observed World Press Freedom Day 2024 with a panel discussion on the theme: ‘Press Freedom and its Importance to Democracy’ at the American Shelf, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.

The panelists include myself, the US Ambassador Bryan D. Hunt, the Deputy Minister of Information and Civic Education (MoICE) Bockarie Bawoh, and the President of Women in the Media Sierra Leone Eastina Taylor. The discussion was moderated by SLAJ Journalist of the Year 2023 Amadu Lamrana Bah.

The panel discussion gives us another opportunity to constructively engage and continue our conversation on the need to promote free and independent media for our democracy to thrive. In this vein, we urge the current constitutional review committee to consider our proposed Charter on Freedom of Expression and the Press in Sierra Leone to guarantee free speech and free media in the country, as well as prohibit the passing of any legislation that seeks to infringe on these fundamental rights.

Let me end by reaffirming SLAJ’s commitment to upholding press freedom and defending the rights of journalists. On this World Press Freedom Day, we stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Gaza, and those who continue to work tirelessly to bring important news and information to the public. We urge the government and its agencies to respect and protect the vital role of a free press in a democracy and ensure the safety and well-being of journalists everywhere. Together, let us continue to champion the values of press freedom and strive for a more transparent, informed, and democratic society.

#WorldPressFreedomDay

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