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NEWS : Local News  

Sierra Leone News : Deputy Minister urges media to take advantage of new leadership at Information Ministry
By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
May 4, 2016, 17:10
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Newly appointed Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Cornelius Deveaux, has encouraged media stakeholders to take advantage of the new political leadership in his ministry to push for the repeal of criminal libel laws and other media related matters.


Speaking at a one day symposium organized by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd 2016, on the theme: Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms. This is our right, Deveaux said ensuring freedom of expression and of the press in Sierra Leone is governments priority as independent, free and pluralistic media are central to good governance.



However, he said media practitioners should realize the Public Order Act of 1965, which contains seditious and criminal libel laws, is not just there to protect government officials, but also to protect and uphold the rights of the ordinary citizens.

 

Removing the criminal libel sections of the Public Order Act will leave the general public unprotected. As a government we have to balance the right of our citizens to the protection of their reputations with rights of journalists to exercise their freedom of expression, said Deveaux.

 

Nonetheless, he said government will continue to engage relevant stakeholders in mapping out a suitable alternative that will protect citizens from the excesses of overzealous media practitioners, and some whom the public consider to be blackmailers in the guise of a noble profession, while at the same time ensure unlimited access to information alongside the safe guard of fundamental freedoms of media practitioners, citizens and public and private establishments.


Speaking of governments commitment to promote media freedom through strengthening the capacity of practitioners, Deveaux boasts that the All Peoples Congress (APC) is the only government that has over the years appointed journalists to ministerial and other positions of trust to assist in nation building and shape the policies of Sierra Leone. 

 

As I speak to you on the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, over 10 journalists who were appointed from the independent media are serving as Press Attaches in our embassies abroad. Some 25 journalists have also just returned from a three-week long training session on New Media in China, he said. 


In 2014 the government established the Right to Access Information Commission through an Act of Parliament to ensure journalists as well as citizens have access to information on activities of government and its agencies. Although its an open secret that the Commission is grossly under-resourced and as a result not yet effectively functional, Deveaux believes with such a Commission in place there is no excuse for reckless journalism. 

 

He therefore encouraged media practitioners to be professional as the media serves as a watchdog, while urging public officials to take proactive measures in making information readily available to give meaning to the Right to Access Information Commission. 


Let us use this day to redefine our partnership with government in ensuring access to information and fundamental freedoms; re-energize our commitment to repeal criminal libel laws; reshape our commitment in solidarity in the fight for press freedom, Deveaux appealed. 


STATEMENT ON WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY, BY HON. CORNELIUS

DEVEAUX, DEPUTY MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND

COMMUNICATIONS ON THE THEME, ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND

FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS-OUR RIGHT.

Mr. Chairman,


All protocols duly observed.


Colleagues all, I bring you warm felicitations from His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma as we are here gathered to celebrate another World Press Freedom Day.

 

Being a media practitioner myself, the first Sierra Leonean to have studied Mass Communication at Fourahbay College to become a Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, I feel very honored on behalf of the Ministry of Information and Communications and on behalf of the APC government of His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to make a statement on the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, on the theme: Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms.

 

Access to Information and fundamental freedoms are intrinsically linked and certainly fundamental principles in any democratic process which enhance good governance, accountability, transparency and the peoples right to know and make informed decisions.


It is in cognizance of this umbilical connection that the Government of President Koroma wasted no time in enacting the Right to Access Information Act in 2013 and to have recently unveiled an open data portal.

 

In furtherance of governments undiluted commitment to the twin concepts of access to information and fundamental freedoms, government has also established the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) which you will all agree with me is beginning to serve its purpose, but regrettably citizens and journalists are falling to fully utilize this opportunity given them by a very accountable and transparent President.

 

This, notwithstanding, the Commission has already received over 30 requests from the public in quest of their fundamental freedoms and has been making access to information much easier, especially in the landmark cases involving Port Loko District Council and the West African Examination Council.


Colleagues all, you will also agree with me that our government has great respectability for media practitioners. We perceive you as partners in development and will always continue to do so till the end of time. This is indicated by the fact that no journalist has been

 

sentenced to serve a jail term despite glaring incidents of seditious and criminal libel committed.


Notwithstanding isolated cases where journalists have been invited by Independent Media Commission or the Police, the APC government of Dr Ernest Bai Koroma remains committed in its perception of media practitioners as partners in development and remains fixed in its belief that journalists and politicians are convenient bedfellows and that most often than not journalists turn out to be better politicians.

 

This conviction is reinforced in the fact that the APC government is the only government that has over the years appointed journalists to ministerial and other positions of trust to assist in nation building and shape the policies of this country.

 

As I speak to you on the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, over 10 journalists who were appointed from the independent media are serving as Press Attaches in our embassies abroad. Some 25 journalists have just returned from a three-week long training session on New Media in China.


The All Peoples Congress government of HE Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma will continue to strengthen the capacity of media practitioners as a demonstration of our commitment and support to enhance press freedom, a fundamental tool in global development.

 

Mr. Chairman, Colleagues all; Our government acknowledges the fact that media freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people and is crucial to the successful implementation of governments blueprint for socio-economic renaissance encapsulated in the Agenda for Prosperity.

 

Mindful of the fact that the successful implementation of the Agenda for Prosperity can only be achieved through access to timely, accurate,fair and unbiased information, representing a plurality of opinions, our government proudly celebrates with other Sierra Leoneans, and specifically media practitioners, in acclaiming that under our regime, freedom of expression is a reality.

 

The fuel that drives this engine is information and therefore access to information is critical. Freedom of information laws, which permit access to public information and takes cognizance of the safe guard of fundamental freedoms of citizens are essential.


We have and will continue to provide:

a legal and regulatory environment that allows for an open and pluralistic media sector to emerge;

a political will to support the sector and rule of law to protect it;

laws ensuring access to information, especially information in the

public domain.


These elements, along with media professionals adhering to the highest ethical and professional standards prescribed in the IMC code of practice, serve as the fundamental infrastructure on which freedom of expression can prevail alongside respect for fundamental freedoms.

 

In this regard I encourage media practitioners to be professional as the media serves as a watchdog while public authorities are urged to take proactive measures in making information readily available thus giving meaning to the right to access information but with a caveat to safeguard fundamental freedoms.

 

The Right to Access Information Act 2013 in section 8 outlines proactive measures which public authorities should follow to proactively make information available even before journalists and the public inquire.

 

It is on this note that I want to use this opportunity to commend the Sierra Leone Police for being proactive in making public, information that makes very clear the circumstances that led to the Independence Day disturbances which resulted in serious wanton damage to buildings, properties and vehicles in significant parts of central Freetown.


The proactive disclosure of information by the SLP was timely and most expedient as it brought to light a lot of the hidden facts that will help the public to reach at an informed decision as to who was responsible for the breach of peace and threats to the safeguard of fundamental freedoms.

 

Colleagues all, freedom of information and the transparency it promotes, has a direct consequence on fighting corruption and lawlessness, which in turn has a tangible impact on development.

 

To reiterate, freedom of information and freedom of expression are the founding principles for open and informed debate.The combination of access to information and citizen participation in media can only contribute to an increased sense of ownership and empowerment. Our government will therefore continue to promote press freedom, access to information and press empowerment.


Let me conclude with a word on the aspirations of journalists for the decriminalization of the aspects of the 1965 Public Order Act bordering on seditious libel.

 

With the Right to Access Information Act now in force and a functional Commission, there is no excuse for reckless journalism.

 

Ensuring freedom for the press in Sierra Leone is governments priority. Independent, free and pluralistic media are central to good governance.

 

Media colleagues should also realize the Public Order Act is not just there to protect government officials, but also to protect and uphold the rights of the ordinary citizens.

 

Removing the criminal libel sections of the Public Order Act will leave the general public unprotected.

 

The government has to balance the right of our citizens to the protection of their reputations with rights of journalists to exercise their freedom of expression.


Government will continue to engage relevant stakeholders in mapping out a suitable alternative that will protect citizens from the excesses of overzealous media practitioners, and some whom the public consider to be blackmailers in the guise of a noble profession, while at the same time ensure unlimited access to information alongside the safe guard of fundamental freedoms of media practitioners, citizens and public and private establishments.


I thank you for your attention.


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

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