The Parliament of Sierra Leone has on Thursday 23rd July 2020 extensively debated and simultaneously approved with unanimity the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act 2020 and repealed the 1965 Public Order Act (POA) that criminalized libel and sedition.
During the course of deliberating on the IMC Bill at the Committee of the Whole House, several issues including the composition of the Members of Commission, regulations and media ethics, rights, responsibilities, ownership of media entities and registration, public interests, fines and licenses levied against media practitioners were critically looked at.
Prior to discussions at the Committee of the Whole House, the Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Hon. Hindolo Moiwo Gevao presented a report on the legislative hearings on the said Bills proposing certain amendments for consideration by the House.
Chairman of the Legislative Committee in Parliament said “I want all of us to consider this moment as a solemn one in our democratic dispensation”. He also said that several people have made tremendous efforts for this moment to become a reality. He thanked President Bio for delivering on his manifesto promise by repealing the infamous Public Order Act which criminalizes libel to strengthen the media in Sierra Leone. He also thanked all the executive members of the Government saying that their generation would be remembered for this brave moment aimed at developing the media. Adding, he said as a lawyer, he had seen journalists belaboring strenuously under the crime of seditious libel; and referenced the case of Dr. Sylvia Blyden in 2010 and Philip Neville whom he referred to as “prominent publishers in Sierra Leone”. “Today we have seen a repeal of a law that several Sierra Leoneans have labored under its axe”, and asked the House to give a standing ovation to President Bio for repealing such a draconian law.
Acting Leader of NGC, Hon. Foday Mario Kamara also thanked President Bio for such a patriotic action adding that past presidents have tried to repeal such a law but to no effect. “Today, Sierra Leoneans will ask how safe are we in the hands of our journalists with regards to professional and responsible journalism”; and lauded the efforts of Government in its repeal process. He went on to say; safeguards are now in place for responsible journalistic practice in the country. Speaking on the significance of the repeal, he called on citizens to congratulate President Bio for delivering on his electoral promise to the people of Sierra Leone.
Leader of C4C, Hon. Saa Emerson Lamina described the day as an epoch making one aimed at guaranteeing free speech in the country. He said present and past Presidents of Sierra Leone have been very tolerant compared to the situation that had transpired in The Gambia during Jammeh’s reign. He spoke about responsible journalism with the passage of these Bills. He commended present and past executives of SLAJ for making frantic efforts relative to the repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965. He also thanked President Bio for delivering on his campaign promise to the media. “RIP to the infamous Public Order Act and thank you to IMC and SLAJ”, he concluded.
The Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Sidie M. Tunis recalled how he started the venture to repeal the Act that criminalizes seditious libel. He said repealing Part V of POA of 1965 is a clear manifestation of President Bio’s commitment and lauded the efforts exerted by the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed R. Swaray. He used the opportunity to appeal to those in the private sector to promote and invest in the media; assuring that there are no barriers in that sector any longer. “President Bio promised you and he has delivered”, he said to the doubting Thomas’s; and called on all to be responsible and prove President Bio right.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo recalled his days in journalism when they were indoctrinated about the dangers surrounding the Public Order Act of 1965. He also spoke about efforts made by past and present executives of SLAJ with regards to the repeal process. He commended the Minister, Mohamed R. Swaray for his efforts that have seen the back of the POA of 1965. He also commended Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai for the role he had played in the area of free speech. “We have all tried our best to get to this point today”, saying that these efforts are the outcome of a coordinated and a united team; adding that in journalism there is no tribalism. He also recalled the role played by Sam Metzger in light of his journalistic prowess several years ago and other prominent journalists who had contributed to the repeal process. “I am satisfied that what we started several years ago has come into fruition”, he beamed with happiness, and described the moment as a great day for Sierra Leone. He called on all to respect President Bio for delivering on his promise to repealing the obnoxious law that criminalizes libel.
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Chernor R.M. Bah said that the Bills were passed by the present Parliament assembled and that it should not be politicized. He also thanked President Bio and others for repealing the infamous POA of 1965. He said they would continue to support good things and would never attempt to politicize any good effort; adding they would continue to acknowledge the good work of past leaders and governments. He also commended the Minister of Information and Communications, the Chairman of the Legislative Committee, the Hon. Speaker, Staff and Members of Parliament for their dedication and support towards the repeal process.
Concluding, the Leader of Government Business, Hon. Mathew Nyuma said “we came, we saw and we conquered”, and thanked all and sundry saying this was a moment for the nation to celebrate. He recalled how President Bio was maligned and tortured with calumny of hate by many journalists, but today he has done something ironical by removing the sword of Damocles hanging menacingly over the journalistic trade. According to the Leader of Government Business, President Bio had promised and delivered saying, “I am going to repeal the POA of 1965 in the best interest of press freedom”. Assuring, he said the President and his Government would continue to deliver on their manifesto promises to the people of Sierra Leone and called on all to emulate the good work of President Bio using the maxim, “Paopa Salone for beteh”.
Extending felicitations, the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu said that Parliament has restored the dignity of the media through the repeal and hope that responsible and professional journalism will hold sway in Sierra Leone. Relating to the IMC Act, he said all the safeguards are significant millstones to enhance and strengthen press freedom. He described the passage of both Acts as a triumph for democracy and good governance and profusely thanked President Bio for delivering on his campaign promise; whilst praying for abundant blessings for the development of journalism for national advancement; saying journalism has been moved from where it was to an industrious and dignified status.
The Hon. Speaker also extended solidarity to Hon. Rebecca Y. Kamara who survived a fatal accident in Kono and that she is responding to treatment. He prayed fervently for her speedy recovery in order to take her rightful seat in Parliament to contribute to national development.