By: Ibrahim Al-Hassan Sesay.
The national executive of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), during a courtesy call on the Minister of Information and Communications yesterday, Mr. Mohamed Swaray, at his Youyi Building Office presented to him a Draft Policy Proposal on the Repeal of Part 5 of the Public Order Act of 1965.
Presenting the document, the President of SLAJ, Kelvin Lewis said that in both the Sierra Leone People’s Party Manifesto and the Presidential address in Parliament, President Julius Maada Bio made several commitments to the media.
The SLAJ President informed the Minister that SLAJ has done lots of work and consultations with several stakeholders on the repeal of the criminal libel law and according to him this document is a draft summary of all what SLAJ has done on the criminal libel law.
Congratulating the Minister upon his appointment, the SLAJ President expressed how happy he was, that SLAJ has a romance relationship with the Minister since he has been one of them. “As you have been in the profession, we expect the most from you and we ensure that you will have our maximum cooperation,” reiterated Kelvin Lewis.
In his response, the Information and Communications Minister said that he was overwhelmed that among the first set of people coming to wish him well are those of his constituents, the SLAJ executive. He said since his pronouncement as Minister he had interacted with SLAJ informally, but this visit was an icing on the cake where they will make road maps on the way forward.
Mohamed Swaray confirmed President Bio’s earlier commitment to the media noting that the President is passionate about issues of human rights and press freedom. He assured the SLAJ of President Bio’s commitment to repeal the criminal libel law.
The Minister said as a government, they are keen to go down in history as the government that finally made it happened. Once the criminal libel law is repealed, journalists would be able to go on with the practice of their trade unhindered and in an enabling environment.
“We believe the media has an essential, if not a very critical role to play in deepening our democracy and in holding duty bearers to account”, said the Minister. He maintained that President Bio believes in constructive criticism, which is why he has dialogue, negotiations and reasonable compromises in marks of his administration. But while the criminal libel would be removed, there will be necessary safe guards of the rights of Sierra Leoneans that will be put in place.
The Minister added that beyond the repeal of the criminal libel law, they have also committed to giving annual subventions to SLAJ, which is not an act of charity. They are called the Fourth Estate because of the role they play and therefore supporting them would not cause any harm, Mr. Swarray noted.