SLAJ urges President Koroma to drop case against journalists
MONDAY JANUARY 20, 2014 – The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has urged President Ernest Bai Koroma to drop the legal matter against journalists and for the harassing of journalists by government ministers to be nipped in the bud.
The SLAJ executive was for the first time on Thursday January 16, 2014 meeting with President Koroma at State House since elected into office some eight months ago.
While promising to instill professional discipline in its members, SLAJ president Kelvin Lewis reminded the President of his vow never to arrest or imprison any journalist, but that the opposite is now happening.
“This trend does not allow our executive to function effectively because every time you have to run to the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) and the court whenever a journalist is arrested,” stated Mr. Lewis. “SLAJ has great respect for the Office of the President, and we hope to continue to work harmoniously in the interest of peace and national development.”
The SLAJ president also drew the attention of President Koroma to a promise he made both as an opposition leader and president to repeal the Public Order Act of 1965. According to Mr. Lewis, there are adequate provisions in the country’s laws for remedy, including the 1961 Defamation Law and the Bankruptcy Act of 2009. He however commended the President and his government for passing the Access to Information Law, and hoped its implementation will be fast tracked.
Lewis implored the President for his government to make available annual subvention to SLAJ which the government of President Kabbah had initiated but later discontinued. He also asked for land from the government, which the Association could use to build a hostel with full conference facilities; proceeds to be used in the running of the Association’s activities.
The SLAJ president used the occasion to formally invite President Koroma to the Annual General Meeting of SLAJ holding in June this year in Makeni.
In his response, President Koroma congratulated the SLAJ executive in their election into office, and reminded them of their responsibility to ensure that their members focus on issues that promote national development. According to the President, no journalist has been unduly incarcerated, and considered the media as a partner in development.
The President conceded that there has been tremendous improvement in the practice of journalism in the country though “more still needs to be done”.
Responding to the issue of harassment of journalists by government ministers, President Koroma said he considers the development as personal and not the position of his government. “The reputation of people – be they government officials or private individuals – has to be protected. When you criticise me objectively, it enhances me because I’ll definitely take action,” he said.
“We don’t want people to use the media for negative purposes, or for purposes outside the media. My government will constructively engage with all sections of the society; we have a lot to do and time is limited. Let’s do away with mundane things and focus on the bigger picture.”
Moreover, President Koroma assured the SLAJ executive that he’s still committed to [reviewing/repealing] the Public Order Act, 1965 but noted that every Sierra Leonean has to be protected.
He said he had not been attending SLAJ programmes because “there were no topical issues. But now that there are so many topical issues [to discuss], I’ll endeavour to attend your next AGM”.
He promised SLAJ: “You’ll be given space to perform your duties so that you’ll not be voted out of office.”
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