What is wrong if Sierra Leone’s authorities move to enforce libel laws to curb irresponsible and reckless journalism ?

Posted by  on October 25, 20130 Comment

By KABS KANU :

Because they had been left to do what they please by a media-tolerant President and government, the media in Sierra Leone have become so lawless, so irresponsible and so reckless that newspapers and radio stations have established their own serfdoms through which they have been terrorizing the nation. Unlike the golden era of journalism shortly after Independence when Sierra Leone was dubbed THE FLEET STREET OF WEST AFRICA  because of the quality of her journalism, the country’s media have sunk to their lowest depth of irresponsibility and recklessness in recent years.

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Media men and women have taken the law into their own hands and established their own depraved standards and ethics. Everyday, screaming newspaper headlines damage the reputation and long-established good names of innocent people in the name of journalism. Untruth , bold-faced lies, false accusations and defamatory stories compete for space with the advertisements that run through the pages of the newspapers. There is no regard for professional ethics as even profanities and obscenities have become the order of the day in our newspapers.

Through the respective serfdoms of their domains, newspapers harry, harass, threaten, intimidate and bully citizens. You either play ball with them by bribing them into silence or your reputation is dangerously damaged. Whole day, barely-educated men and women who have become pressmen overnight without the requisite training and experience , trudge from office to office and business concern to business concern, intimidating people that they had just received damning information about them and if they do not shell out money the scandalous and destructive stories will be published against them.

Conscious of the fact that we live in a gullible society where every defamation story is believed, innocent victims scurry to stuff brown envelopes with leones or dollars to persuade the so-called press men and women from damaging their names. The Lord forbid if their paths cross an errant politician with skeletons in the cupboard. That politician is doomed as the  merciless media personnel will milk him/her  dry. Since this is the method through which they make their living, journalists no longer strive for excellence in their newspapers .There was a time when you longed to turn the pages of our newspapers for creative, interesting, educative and well-researched articles . In those days, you had thrilling feature articles on different aspects of life and of course, the sports pages were full of exciting previews , reports of games with action pictures. Today, the scanty space left by advertisements  and sports stories plagiarized from the internet are occupied by defamatory stories against people and institutions ( I guess those that failed to pass the brown envelopes ).

It is a disgrace to our nation. A country where western learning and creative arts like journalism were first introduced and flourished before being spread to other West African nations had become the cesspit for the most lawless, irresponsible and jungle-styled journalism.

In their perfidy, the pressmen and women refuse to accept that press freedom does not invest the right on anybody to damage the names of other people. Your freedom of expression stops where the rights of other citizens start. In our constitutional democracy, people have a right to their good names. Libel laws were established to ensure that innocent people were protected from their reputation being needlessly impugned or their privacy invaded by lawless media personnel.

Also not to be forgotten is the fact that Sierra Leone is a country of laws. What kind of nation will we be building if we do not enforce the laws of the land ? Just to ensure that certain misguided journalists who have a personal ax to grind with politicians and public figures carry out their vendetta against these citizens, should we sit down and allow the laws of the land to be violated with reckless and wanton relish ? Should people surrender their hard-won reputation so that brown-envelope journalists make their living ? Should we allow vindictive journalists in the pay of certain opposition politicians to flourish in their perfidy of  seditious libel against the President and his officials just because we are afraid of being accused of attempting to muzzle the press if we try to enforce the law ? Should we sit down and allow irresponsible journalists to incite the public against the President and endanger his welfare and that of the nation because we want to pursue the ideal of freedom of the press ? Which one comes first : National security or the perception that the media is free ? Should we surrender the security of the state to vicious men and women parading as journalists just so that people would say we have a free press ?

No way. The Government owes a duty to the general populace to enforce the laws of the land and to ensure the safety and security of the nation. Inciting remarks in the media calling for the President to be exterminated like a rat have the potential to undermine the peace and security of the nation. Those who commit these offences must be brought to justice just like the thief at King Jimmy Market or the rapist in the alley at Krootown Road. No one is above the law. Laws were made to be enforced without prejudice to any citizen. A crime is a crime, regardless of who commits it.

Sierra Leone’s journalists are subject to the laws of the land and must practice their trade within the confines of the law. If other professionals like doctors and nurses are prosecuted when in the reckless and unprofessional practice of their trade somebody is harmed or killed , why should the journalist not be prosecuted for violating the laws of libel ? What makes the journalist different from other professionals who get prosecuted for professional violations and mistakes ?

When the SLPP Government of President Tejan Kabbah was in power it prosecuted so many journalists it considered to have  violated the libel laws of the land . The SLPP would say that they were enforcing the laws of the land. What makes it different when the APC Government  does the same ? At least, this government did not try to murder the journalists as the SLPP and the NPRC did . The Ernest Bai Koroma Government respects the rights of its citizens. All the government is doing is to make sure that the laws of the land are enforced and it has a constitutional duty to do so.

 

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