New IMC Bill; A Knee On The Media’s Neck in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, especially during governments led by the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), has a history of promulgulating obnoxious laws geared towards silencing dissenting views and criticisms against the government.
The famous 1965 Public Order Act enacted in the era of the late Albert Margai’s SLPP led government is one among many of the bad laws which continues to criminalize journalism and other forms of democratic practices to date.
Under Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act that criminalizes libel, journalists are guilty until proven innocent by the court and the truth under this law is considered as no defence.
Governments after governments have continued to use this law against the media in Sierra Leone to their advantage thereby silencing criticisms.
The promise of expunging this draconian law by leaders of both All Peoples Congress (APC) and Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) governments during political campaigns has remained a mere lip service.
While the current SLPP government under the former military leader, Brig Rtd. Julius Maada Bio, is seen to be making efforts to expunge Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act, it appears those efforts are mere political gimmicks that lack every sense of sincerity.
This is evident in the New Independent Media Commission’s Act 2020 which has already been gazzetted.
The new obnoxious IMC Bill no doubt has put the future of the media in Sierra Leone in bleak and if nothing is done to stop it, the media is soon to fade away.
Like the tragic death of George Floyd, the new IMC Act is considered as a knee on the neck of the media which will ultimately lead to its death in Sierra Leone if nothing is being done urgently.
The gazzetted Independent Media Commission Act 2020 seeks to eliminate fair competition in the media landscape and consequently silence independent journalists especially in the Print Media.
The said Act contains onerous provisions that would undermine media pluralism and completely eliminate the registration of newspapers as a ‘Sole Proprietorship’ business and only provides for registration under the Partnership Act 1890 and the Companies Act 2009.
The Act, if enacted by Parliament, will give the IMC sweeping powers to even shut down media houses on grounds that ‘it is in the public interest so to do’.
It should be noted that many newspapers in Sierra Leone are registered under ‘Sole Proprietorship’ as one among several options provided for under the current IMC Act.
It is believed that the elimination of newspapers registered as ‘Sole Proprietorship’ under the ‘new law’ would lead to the closure of many independently owned newspapers, end media scrutiny of government institutions and public officials; inevitably result in the end of governance accountability and transparency in Sierra Leone.
This new law would not only put the young media owners/practitioners out of business but will also greatly undermine their livelihoods.
It is my considered view that the unnecessary rush to repeal or amend the current IMC Act – which is already sufficient to regulate the media – and the onerous provisions contained therein have once more exposed the insincerity and hypocrisy behind the repeal of the Criminal Libel laws.
This new IMC Bill is indeed a Knee on the Neck of the media especially the print in Sierra Leone.
By Ibrahim Alusine Kamara (Aluspa)
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