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NEWS : Local News  

In Sierra Leone, IMC outlines punishments for offending journalists
By Bampia Bundu
Aug 16, 2011, 17:14
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The Independent Media Commission (IMC) has cautioned newspapers editors, proprietors, stations managers, producer and presenters to refrain from publishing or airing stories that are against the revised media code of practice of the IMC. This was revealed yesterday August 15, 2011 at the press conference held at IMCs Siaka Stevens Street office in Freetown.


In his statement, Commissioner Mohamed Samura called on all journalists in Sierra Leone and reminded them of their responsibilities in these trying times. Commissioner Samura noted that journalists should know that the continuous peace and stability of the nation lies in their hands.


He disclosed that the IMC will continue to uphold the rights of the media to the freedom of expression in the dissemination of information but warned that freedom comes with an equal measure of responsibility.


Commissioner Samura stated that the display of vulgarity, defamation, viciousness and deliberate misinformation will not go unpunished as misleading reports do not reflect the level of professionalism expected of reporters, editors, proprietors, programme producers and or directors.

Commissioner Christo Johnson (Left) Commissioner Samura(Centre)and IMC Consultant Warritay

 

He stated that few days ago, the IMC issued a press release detailing the commissions displeasure over the manner in which recent incidents, such as the reports on the civil war that was reported in some local dailies that ended up castigating politicians, political parties and other related institutions.


For his part, the Consultant/Director of the Monitoring Research and Project Unit of the IMC Mr. Batilloi Warritay called on journalists to ensure that they uphold the revised media code of practice and disclosed that many news papers have fall short of their performances as they have been publishing articles, stories or broadcasting programmes that are inconsistent with the media code of ethics.

 

Mr Warritay stated that such a meeting is to draw the attention of media practitioners to refrain from writing bad things.  He warned that any journalist, print or broadcast found wanting will face the full penalty of the law laid down by the IMC Media Code of Practice. He outlined the punishments for any infringements as follows:

 

Failure to comply with the accuracy, balance and credibility requirements in the Media Code of Practice will result in a fine not exceeding Le1,000,000 (one million leones) Suspension will follow if the fine is not paid within 30 working days.


Character assassination through consistent misinformation, deliberate misrepresentation and or defamation of an individual or institution, will be deemed as a breach of the Code and will lead to a fine not exceeding Le 20 million (twenty million leones). Suspension will follow if the fine is not paid within 30 working days.


Journalists involved in the use of especially threatening or abusive language, aimed at humiliating and/or ridiculing an individual will be considered a breach of the code and subject to a fine not exceeding five million leones (Le5m). Suspension will follow if the fine is not paid within 30 working days.

 

Commissioner Christo Johnson also joined in reminding all journalists to put their country Sierra Leone first in the execution of their journalistic duties. He appealed to editors in particular to ensure that information gathered by reporters should be well censored to ensure that the information is suitable for public consumption. Mr. Johnson added that information obtained by journalists must be treated with patriotism and professionalism because no amount of money is worth, an action or actions that will return the country to the dark days of the civil war, or a complete collapse of the respected profession of journalism.


INFRINGEMENTS OF THE MEDIA CODE OF ETHICS

         Presented by Battiloi Waritay


Let me share with you a few of the cases that the Commission has identified as glaring examples of what we do not wish to see repeated, and which some of you have subjected the reading and listening public to over the last few weeks:

     On Tuesday 26th July, 2011 the Senator newspaper published a news story under the headline: SLPP Presidential Aspirant is a drug dealer. The story accuses Major Ismail Sengu Koroma of having been a central operative in the landing of 300 kilograms of cocaine at the Freetown International Airport sometime ago. The writer of the article claimed that their newsroom was inundated with calls from the US accusing Koroma of this criminal offence. Any evidence to this claim is nonexistent, and by its very articulation obviously an exaggeration. The article in our view is based entirely on hearsay, and amounts to a serious case of defamation of character.

Section 1 (b) paragraphs 1-4 of the Media Code of Conduct state the following: Accuracy

Balance and Credibility

Newspapers, newsletters and periodicals must at all times, practice the ABC of journalism - Accuracy, Balance and Credibility. They must rake care nor to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted materials including pictures. They must make all reasonable efforts to check and cross- check the accuracy and credibility of stories.

They must obtain all sides of the issue prior ro publication, if even it means delaying publication of the story. Newspapers, newsletters and magazines must distinguish clearly between comments, conjecture and fact.

Failure to comply with the accuracy, balance and credibility requirements in the Media Code of Practice will result in a fine not exceeding Le1,000,000 (One Million Leones) Suspension will follow if the fine is not paid within 30 working days.

     On Monday 1st August The African Champion newspaper carried an article titled John Benjamins litany of lies and deceit. The articles purpose is to critique Mr. Benjamins speech during the SLPP Delegates Conference on Friday 29th July 2011. It is actually a defamatory attack on the person of Mr. John Benjamin. In addition to a photograph of Mr. Benjamin that is captioned: John Benjamin tiff en lie, the article refers to Mr. Benjamin as morally deficient and claims that John Benjamins whole life is built on lies and deceit. Clearly, a case of exaggerated character assassination.

Section 1 (b) paragraph 18 of the Media Code of Conduct states the following: Character assassination Journalists will refrain from the use of language, pictures, cartoons, commentaries, analysis, editorials, depictions and/or news that aim directly at destroying or deliberately tarnishing the character of individuals in both the private and public domains.

Character assassination through consistent misinformation, deliberate misrepresentation and or defamation of an individual or institution, will be deemed as a breach of the Code and will lead to a fine not exceeding Le 20 million (twenty million leones). Suspension will follow if the fine is not paid within 30 working days.

     On Monday 1st August, Sierra Express Media published a cartoon that depicts the First Lady giving money to one Florence Kattah in return for political support. In an adjoining article titled Stop the Talking you Big Fat Hog, Florence Kattah is referred to as a big fat hog. Do you really believe the public needs this level of debasement from a respected newspaper?

Section 1 (b) paragraph 27 of the Media Code of Conduct states the following:

Threats and abuse

News stories, analyses and editorials shall emphasize good taste thereby avoiding morbid, sensational, shocking, alarming, threatening and/or abusive details that are not essential to the story being reported, especially stories on politics, crime, death or sex.

Journalists involved in the use of especially threatening or abusive language, aimed at humiliating and / or ridiculing an individual will be considered a breach of the code and subject to a fine not exceeding five million Leones (Le5m). Suspension will follow if the fine is not paid within 30 working days.

Most recently, as Im sure many of you are aware; a press release was issued by the ARC Secretary General on the 8 August 2011, which catalogued a series of painful memories of past events in an attempt to discredit the SLPPflag bearer Julius Maada Bio. You may also be aware of the horrific rejoinder published in the Democrat newspaper on the 10 August 2011, subjecting the reading public in Sierra Leona and abroad to the gruesome images of Sierra Leones civil war.

Their intent was not only mischievous but clearly aimed at hitting back hard. Unfortunately, the paper was in direct violation of the Media Code of Practice under section 5 paragraph 8.3, which states that: Political parties should ensure their statements and releases are devoid of insulting language to avoid public unrest or any breach ofpeace. Media practitioners are compelled bv professional imperative to edit out undignified or intemperate language.

For me personally, it was the worst violation I have seen between 2010 and 2011. As stated in our earlier Press Release, the IMC acknowledges that the country cannot run away from its past. However, wielding information from the worst years in this nations history against each other in a fight for political dominance is not only insensitive to the public but highly dangerous. It only serves to undo the painstaking efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring about emotional and structural healing over the past decade.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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