S/Leone’s President Moves to decriminalize Media Law, warns press against defamation

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Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has taken a quantum leap forward to repeal an obnoxious public order act but warns journalists against abuse of the privilege to defame people.

The seditious law has been undermining press freedom and silencing dissident views since 53 years ago.

“I am pleased to inform you that a Cabinet paper with full concurrence from the Attorney General is now before Cabinet for consideration.

“It is my honest and genuine view that Part Five of the Public Act of 1965 should be repealed and will be repealed in the shortest possible time,” President Bio told local and foreign journalists in Freetown this week.

Since 1965, the law had remained untouched by previous governments as it remained a thorn in the flesh of media practitioners and opposition or dissident voices alike.

President Bio said his move was in keeping with his presidential campaign promise but was quick to warn that repealing the act does not envisage a void in the accountability matrix relating to freedom of the press and expression.

He insisted that the repeal will also neither “imply softening the legal regime or grant a carte blanche to journalists to defame people”.

Rather, he explained that when the seditious libel law was repealed, it will enhance the capacity of the country’s Independent Media Commission (IMC) to enforce the IMC Act.

The IMC which regulates the media landscape of the country was dissolved by President Bio immediately when he assumed office last March over alleged ineptitude.

He also promised that his government would give the media regulatory body, Independent Media Commission, the leverage required to work independently.

Further to that, Mr. Bio explained that his government subvention due the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists had been budgeted for and was available to access as and when they were ready without any preconditions.

Mr. George Khoryama, a former Editor in Chief of Liberia’s official ‘New Liberian’ daily newspaper was named to head the IMC.

Khoryama’s candidacy was among over a dozen other presidential appointees but he (Khoryama) received the nod from the lawmakers last Thursday after undergoing strict vetting by the appointment committee.

His trek to the position was not all plain sailing for his alleged close affinity to the ruling party of President Julius Maado Bio.

For over a decade, Mr. Khoryama served as mentor, columnist and editorialist for several media institutions in neighboring Liberia where he eventually headed the national daily newspaper, ‘The New Liberian’.

He basked in the adulation of Sierra Leonean journalists which his cutting-edge editing skills when he returned home during the early part of the 1990s and worked as an editor and consultant for several media houses.

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