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IMC action against Awareness Times: Deterrent or high-tech Political Lynching?
By Revd Kabs-Kanu (New York)
Oct 5, 2012, 17:00
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UNITED NATIONS, September 28th 2012: While it is true that media standards have gone to the dogs in Sierra Leone and something has to be done to give respectability, credibility and honor to a much-abused profession, the action taken against the Awareness Times newspaper (published by the most eloquent woman in the nation, Sylvia Blyden), the Senator and the Independent Observer newspaper, is suspicious, to say the least. The manner of arriving at a month-long suspension and hefty two million leones fines imposed on Blydens Awareness Times and the two papers cast a big slur on the capacity of certain institutions to nourish the Freedom of Speech that President Koroma is promoting in Sierra Leone.


More suspicious was the immediate and raucous acclaim given to the decision by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists which called a hasty emergency meeting within less than 24 hours of the questionable decision. When a politicized journalist association that is taking sides in the political affray in its country quickly comes out openly to applaud and support adverse action taken against one of its own whom it is supposed to defend, one is tempted to smell a rat A rat called HIGH TECH POLITICAL LYNCHING.


This is especially so when the Association in question is now shorn off all neutrality and a sense of national responsibility, while being presently headed by a hireling of one of the presidential candidates. We hope Sylvia Blyden is not being punished for being a very outspoken young woman, because this will not augur well for press freedom in Sierra Leone.


The questions provoked by the glee and jubilation with which a cross-section of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) welcomed the IMC decisions are compelling; given the manner Umaru Fofana has been conducting himself at the BBC and the Sierra Leone press.

If  this action had been taken against the  opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party  (SLPP)  newspapers like Global Times, Unity, Premier News and what-have -you, would Mr. Fofana, who is the  SLAJ President, have applauded the decisions? Would  Fofana had  fought the temptation to run to the BBC  to complain that political repression had reached its nadir in Sierra Leone and that three newspapers had been unfairly suspended? We want Mr. Fofana to answer these questions with due diligence to the dictates of his conscience  because  what we have been seeing on  the BBC, FACEBOOK and other media is a SLAJ President who is an SLPP  propagandist and a spokesman for the opposition SLPP Presidential candidate, Maada Bio.


As for the IMC, the fact to be reckoned  with when dealing with its troubling action against Awareness Times and Sylvia Blyden, especially is that worse  moral, ethical and professional abuses have been  perpetrated in other newspapers in the country as recently as within the last five months. There are some opposition newspapers that have sunk so low that they literally belong to the cesspit.


Not only do they depend on lies and vile propaganda to fight  the President, His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma and the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) and innocent people;  they deliberately and dangerously color the news along tribal and regional lines, in the process undermining the fragile peace in the nation and pushing the country towards tribal war. Is the Independent Media Commission (IMC) telling us that they have not seen these violations? Is it only now that the IMC has realized that journalists in Sierra Leone have been BUSY blighting the landscape with the footprints of unprofessional and unethical all over the nation?


Does Mr. Rod Mac-Johnson really read the Sierra Leone newspapers? Is it only now that he and his commissioners are awakening to the reality that the pages of some Sierra Leone newspapers are  platforms for wicked lies, twisting of facts, distortion, concoction of reality,  indecent and rude journalism?

Many people are worried that however much some Sierra Leoneans may think Awareness Times went overboard by referring to somebody as an OKOBO (Impotent man), the fact is that she too had been subjected to similar but worse lewd attacks by SLPP journalists to which the IMC never blinked an eye but turned the other way.


Not even an old man like opposition Sama Banya exercised discretion in the sexually-explicit jokes he told in the media about the countrys only female newspaper publisher. While nobody would applaud the act of describing somebody as an okobo, what remedies have the IMC taken before for the ribald jokes  often told in the SLPP  press about Sylvia Blyden ? Given that Madam Blyden herself had been a victim of coarse sexual attacks, the IMC should have issued a very strong warning instead of resorting to an outright suspension. Justice was not served at all by suspending Blydens newspaper.



The timing of the decision is also QUESTIONABLE. Sierra Leone is just about to enter a tense  period of electioneering campaign for the November 17 Presidential, Legislative and Local elections  in which the  outspoken Sylvia Blyden would have played a big part in  dissecting  the suitability/unsuitability of the candidates. She is  known for her unflattering opinions about the opposition SLPP Presidential candidate , Mr. Maada Bio, who sent thugs to beat up and inflict injuries on  her reporters for questioning his credentials for the SLPP Flagbearership.  At the same time   rumours  are also persisting that the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party ( SLPP ) Presidential candidate , Mr. Maada Bio, has bought  over most of the Freetown newspaper and radio journalists, as well as the leadership of SLAJ.


Some journalists beating their chests that they are watchdogs  of the national interest are nothing but  Maada Bio lapdogs and attack dogs. We hope it is not true what is also being said that the IMC is part of that disturbing trend.


Our  frank opinion is that there is no way that you could justifiably suspend Awareness Times and the others without feeling a sense of injustice  for not doing the same to some of the blandly indecent opposition newspapers doing the rounds in the country.  Some of them are not only vulgar ; they are openly inciting the gullible public to rise up against  legally-constituted government while others are  subtly provoking war between the South/East and the North.Mr. Rod Mac-Johnson and his Commissioners cannot convince anybody that they have  not seen this trend, unless they are reading the newspapers with glasses tinted green!!


The IMC  may be hard put to it.  We understand that. We know they have to regulate the media but it must be done fairly and correctly. Why were the Awareness Times journalists and their representatives not summoned first for a hearing before the wildcat decision to suspend them?  What the  IMC  has done is that they have crucified a few media  for the sins of the Sierra Leone press  after turning a blind eye  to the destructive journalism in the country for too long. The IMC  failed to  dispense justice across the board.


The other question to be asked is that while it is true that the  whole media architecture in Sierra Leone has been blemished by partisan politics , muckraking and mudslinging ,  dont we have courts of law to handle matters of libel and sedition?


Ironically, Sierra Leone has one of the most draconian press laws. Though Truth by Justification is a well-entrenched legal defence for libel and sedition, the  letter and spirit of the 1965 Public Order Act, under which our libel laws are enshrined , create the belief  that the more truthful an  alleged libellous statement, the more guilty the journalist. When our press laws are applied to the letter, it is difficult for an offending journalist  to escape punishment. And nothing makes these press laws more incisive than the fact that they bite  both ways. Libel is  both a felony and a tort in Sierra Leone. One therefore cannot  understand why newspapers have to  be suspended by a regulatory body when the law provides citizens sufficient   criminal and civil remedies.


As for those media practitioners who are silent because it is not their ox that  had  been gored or who are joining in the IMCs lynching of colleagues, they have to note that this is not about Sylvia Blyden. This is about interference with freedom of the press in Sierra Leone. The All Peoples Congress (APC) Government , which is the most victimized entity by yellow and irresponsible journalists, has not clamped down on the press and is amazingly and impressively  allowing journalists to practice their trade without let or hindrance. Isnt it ironic  that instead of the government that is being maligned undeservedly, it is a regulatory body that has suddenly lifted its boots against the media  after years of overlooking ethical and professional abuses? We  hope the IMC  has not fallen into the same partisan cesspool as SLAJ leadership.


The decision to suspend the Awareness Times and others will not set any deterrent. Rather, it will go a long way to reinforce suspicions that the dirty political drama in the nation is now also being  played on the chessboard of the nations journalist association and regulatory body.


And this is not good at all.


It is not  good for the future of a profession that has already been hijacked by political megalomaniacs who want power at all costs in our nation.


2012, COCORIOKO. All rights reserved.



Article was written before its author learnt of the High Court's decision against IMC suspension. The Freetown High Court has Stayed the "suspension".

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

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