Press Freedom hangs on a thin thread
As the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day, on May 3rd every year since 1993, when the UN declared the day following the land mark declaration in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991, press freedom in Sierra Leone and many other parts of the world hangs on a thin thread.
This year’s theme, “Information as a public good”, depicts the importance of a free but responsible press not only for the good of the Media, but also for the good of the public.
Indeed, so much has been said and done around the world towards the development of the media as channels of public information, entertainment and economic prosperity; setting the agenda and checking and scrutinizing power excesses.
These efforts and interventions have been made amidst autocratic Governments and killer laws bent on stifling freedom of the press. Journalists and advocates of press freedom alike have suffered beatings, unlawful detentions and harassment throughout the history of the press all over the world; Sierra Leone is not an exception. The welfare, safety and conditions of journalists including sexual harassment of female journalists continue to ring the doomsday bell.
Indeed, not all is gloom and doom; there have been some significant and groundbreaking improvements in the media land scape in the country, as attested to by the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ), Ahmed Nasralla, in his latest statement marking the day.
Again, the Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI), in their latest “State of the Media Report” of 2020, fairly acknowledges and celebrates some of the gains made, prominent among them, is the decriminalization of the media by the recent purging of Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965.
Substantial ground has also been covered by the Media Reform Coordination Group (MRCG) and its funders in ensuring a safe, professional and responsible media in Sierra Leone. There are therefore, enough reasons to celebrate world press freedom day.
My reservation though, which I am firmly convinced is shared with many other media colleagues and well-meaning members of the public, is the dark cloud that hangs over freedom of the press and expression as contained in the cybercrime bill, which now lies before one of the Committees in Parliament, going through the enactment process to become law.
Following its clinical diagnosis by particularly media stakeholders, so much dross that tend to curtail freedom of the press and infringe on privacy, was detected and refined in good faith.
My doubt and fear stem from a good dose of skepticism and suspicion that the said added value to the document would end up not been integrated into the final bill, when it becomes law.
Anticipating that the said changes go down the drain, it will constitute the worst catastrophe that has ever befallen Press Freedom in Sierra Leone and bring to naught, all efforts and energies to build a viable press that will enhance peace and democracy.
By Abdul Kuyateh
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