Once again I am in a big media event; once again I am stepping in for the substantive Minister of Information and Communications; and once again, as I said during SLAJ’s biennial conference in Kenema a few months ago, I cannot make any pretenses as to your desire to have seen the Minister here. But that is how government works.
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Member of Parliament [Hon. Ibrahim Sorie], Mr. Peter Tayong of the UN, representative of NATCOM, Madam Chairperson of the Independent Media Commission, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
I must first of all apologize for my late-coming, which has to do with the inner workings of government when last-minute decisions have to be taken. When Mrs. Bernadette Cole [Chairperson of the IMC] heard that I would be the one to launch this survey instead of the Minister, she was on the phone with me this morning, urging me to come quickly and not bother to prepare a speech, as she believes I can always speak wisely without guidance. But, with all due respect, Madam, inasmuch as you are correct, yet still that is not the way government works.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to represent my Minister at this very important workshop aimed at reviewing the existing Independent Media Commission Act and its related statutory instruments. Nothing would have been more exciting than allowing the Commissioners to identify gaps in the instruments that guide their operations and to proffer ways of filling in those gaps.
As a Government, we are proud of the achievements of the Independent Media Commission under the leadership of Mrs. Bernadette Cole, although at the same time we are acutely aware that there’s room for improvement. I must hasten to say that perhaps the greatest challenges of the Commission have to do with the existing legislation that has either been misinterpreted or misrepresented or misconstrued by some key stakeholders, and also the fact that the Act does not give the Commission the power to impose required stiff penalties that would deter violators of the Media Code of Practice.
I am very sure that the outcome of this workshop will address all the grey areas and present a law that will stand the test of time. Because we must always remind ourselves that laws are not made for a particular generation; they must stand the test of time – for the sake of posterity.
Mr. Chairman, let me now take off my political hat and contribute to the amendment of the current IMC Act and also educate all of us on the interpretation of some sections of the Act. I would like to draw your attention to Section 4 (1&2) which deals with the composition of Commissioners, and which has apparently been misconstrued or misinterpreted by our colleagues in the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists. Section 4(1) reads: “the Commission shall consist of a Chairman and ten other members, all of whom shall be appointed by the President acting on the advice of SLAJ and subject to the approval of Parliament.”
This section is not in any way suggesting that SLAJ should nominate people to serve on the Commission; the power to nominate is purely the prerogative of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, subject to parliamentary approval. Only the ex-officio members that have the mandate from their institutions can easily be recommended to serve on the Commission.
Sub-section 2 (a) also needs to be looked at, as some institutions are oversubscribed at the IMC. It is very clear in the Act that the full composition of the Commission should include:
•Two legal practitioners
•Two experts in the field of communications
•Two experts in the field of radio
•Two experts in the field of print journalism
•A representative of the Minister of Information
•A representative of SLAJ
You would all agree with me that the current composition of the IMC is not reflective of this set-up. We therefore need to find ways of redressing the situation, and perhaps even start thinking of including a representative from the civil society.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not over-emphasize the fact that the term of the current members of the Commission is at its tether. Without doubt, the President will soon appoint new Commissioners.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, while again thanking the outgoing Chairperson and Commissioners for the laudable work they have done thus far, it is now my pleasure to launch yet another achievement of the Commission.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am gratified and grateful to officially launch the IMC Commissioned Survey Report Of The Media Landscape In Sierra Leone, and to officially declare this workshop open.
I thank you all.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.