From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

COMMENTS & OPINIONS
Criminal Libel Laws will stay unlessÖ
By Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
Jul 16, 2010, 17:03

In the United Kingdom, technology, educational standards and modernization are far advanced as compared to Sierra Leone. In the United Kingdom, the levels of illiteracy are virtually non-existent and so it would NOT be easy for a journalist to whip up undue or unwarranted public resentment against an individual; resentment that might subject that individual to extreme danger. It will not be easy because the vast majority of the U.K. public are educated enough to analyze their current issues. This has been the case for at least a hundred years now in the United Kingdom.


HOWEVER
, despite all these high levels of civilization & education, if the Sierra Leone Bar Association is to be believed, the United Kingdom only saw it fit to abolish their Criminal Libel Laws just last year in 2009! This singular salient fact, says a lot about why those of us advocating for the Criminal Libel Laws to stay intact in Sierra Leone until Libel Insurance can be legislated by Parliament, are on the right track; whilst those shouting from the rooftops for the Criminal Libel Laws to be removed without suggesting viable alternatives, are simply continuing to make a mockery of themselves in this country.


The right to oneís reputation (Article 12) is such a sacrosanct right that in the UNís Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it precedes the right to freedom of expression (Article 19). This means responsible Governments will place more emphasis on their citizensí rights to their reputations than on their citizensí rights to freely express defamatory hate speech against others.

Article 12 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

 

In the above light, I submit the following:

(1) Only a totally crazy Executive arm of Government will succumb to the calls to remove the Criminal Libel Laws without ensuring a viable alternative to protect its citizensí rights to their reputation!

(2) Only an idiotic and moronic Parliament will even countenance such calls to remove the criminal libel laws without first legislating alternative laws to protect citizens from a gullible publicís undue resentment!

(3) Only a directionless Judiciary will endorse the removal of such vital laws that seek to protect reputations without first ensuring that a deterrent to despotic, reputation-shredding, journalism is first put in place as a protective measure.

And surely our current Parliament is not composed of idiots nor is our Judiciary a directionless one and whilst the Executive acts a little crazy sometimes, it is not totally crazy! (smile). On a more serious note, let me assure the rooftop criers that no-one, absolutely no-one, is going to remove any criminal libel laws from the books if suitable alternatives like Libel Insurance are not first legislated in Parliament as a pre-condition for opening any media-house. For anytime a fluffy head comes up with an inane shout for the libel laws to be removed, there will be a cogent rebuttal from those of us who do not need to seek cheap popularity and so can say things as we see them.


Sierra Leone
ís Criminal Libel Laws will never be removed UNLESS we have a viable and acceptable alternative to replace them. If United Kingdom, with all their sophistication and high level of education, only abolished criminal libel laws just last year in 2009, then who are we with our shamefully low level of literacy and our sometimes crude and brutish way of life to start calling for an immediate abolition of Criminal Libel Laws without first suggesting a respectable and viable alternative to protect the lives and well-being of ordinary citizens? (Remember how Sheikh Mustaba, Hon. Musa Kabia and businessman Sakomah crudely and brutally lost their lives through reckless broadcast journalism in 1998??!)


My good friends of the Sierra Leone Bar Association command a lot of respect from me and they know this. However, the Bar needs to clarify its position on this issue and do it pretty fast or we will start assuming the Bar was simply looking for a means of cheap popularity when its lawyers made the call for the abolition without first suggesting an alternative to the Criminal Libel Laws. My dear Ladies & Gentlemen of the esteemed Bar, surely your fellow Sierra Leoneans deserve better than any such suspected cheap publicity stunts! Who will protect our reputations if the Criminal Libel Laws are removed and not replaced with Libel Insurance or some other suitable deterrent? Think keenly on it dear friends.


As for my own professional body of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, our leaders of SLAJ need to be more sensitive to the plight of the ordinary Sierra Leoneans when they agitate on this issue or they will find SLAJ is simply banging its head recklessly and fruitlessly against a hard brick wall. No-one is going to remove any Criminal Libel Laws unless a suitable alternative is first preferred. Good day dear readers!



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