By S. U. Thoronka.
The Media Reform Coordinating Group Sierra Leone yesterday organized a one day interactive workshop on the popularization of civil libel law in Sierra Leone at the Harry Yansaneh Memorial Hall, on Campbell Street, Freetown.
Chairman of the occasion, Francis Sowa in his introductory remarks gave an overview of the organization, outlining the purpose of the workshop and achievements made so far from its inception to date.
Chairman of the Independent Media Commission IMC, Ambassador Kanu speaking on behalf of the Commission, informed majority of the participants who were drawn from both the electronic and print media that IMC was not in favor of the repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act without any replacement.
He, however, maintained that there is no criminal libel law in the UK or America, but according to him that cannot preclude any aggrieved person in those countries from seeking redress from the court of law for damages.
In expressing his personal opinion as a lawyer, the IMC Chairman was of the view that if there was any law to be reformed it would be Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act from criminal law to civil law. He said, as an individual he was very much concerned about his hard earned reputation and would not allow any body to tarnish it with impunity or not for anything less than 100 million of Leones in damages.
President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists SLAJ, Kelvin Lewis said the purpose of the meeting was to settle for a replacement of the Criminal Libel Law. “But the question mostly asked is if it is repealed what would be the replacement”? He therefore implored all participants to make meaningful contributions.
He said journalists hate to be incarcerated for simply performing their work and that being a journalist does not make one a criminal. He urged participants to design the alternative to the Criminal Libel Law, adding that if a civil law suit is filed against a journalist that individual is bound to gain redress.
“We believe in the modern law and SLAJ has a code of ethics while the IMC the regulatory body of the media landscape in the country also has a code of practice and would therefore not like to see journalists in jail for doing their job”, he concluded.
A senior member of SLAJ and legal adviser, Joseph Egbenda Kapuwa explained the 1961 Ordinance to Amend the Law Relating to Libel and Slander and other Malicious Falsehood in relation to the 1965 Public Order Act.
He compared both documents and cited out the differences and similarities as well as the advantages and disadvantages. He later gave his professional advice after hearing suggestions and answering to various questions from participants.