September 14, 2017 / By Sylvia Villa
The provisions of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act imposes criminal responsibility for defamatory and seditious libel publication. This section of the Public Order Act has been described by journalists as “odious” and “obnoxious”. For many journalists, they see the repeal of the Public Order Act as a struggle for press freedom, media pluralism and freedom of expression in Sierra Leone.
For decades, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has been lobbying the government to decriminalise libel. And, in successive election campaigns, politicians, including President Koroma, have vowed to repeal those specific sections of the Public Order Act.
In an effort to provide an alternative to repealing the criminal libel law, the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) in collaboration with SLAJ, on Wednesday 13 September 2017, discussed issues on the 1961 civil ordinance relating to libel, slander and other malicious falsehoods.
Lamenting on the implications of criminalising libel, Kelvin Lewis, President of SLAJ, noted the alternative of using civil actions against journalists for a defamatory and libel publication, which would be a redress to the aggrieved individual.Lewis noted, “We are not criminals. We are against
Lewis noted, “We are not criminals. We are against criminalising libel. A journalist should not be jailed for performing his or her duty. We are saying that if a journalist publishes anything defamatory, take civil action against the journalist. You will get a court redress and settlements.”
According to Lewis, repealing the criminal libel laws will strengthen journalism, democracy, good governance and promote an inclusive and informed society. “Our movement is geared towards a sustainable and developed Sierra Leone,” said Lewis.
Joseph Kapuwa, a legal consultant, informed the gathering about the need to review relevant issues that are proscribed the 1961 civil libel ordinance before looking at it as an option to the criminal libel law.
Kapuwa suggested strengthening the Independent Media Commission (IMC) and the Code of Practice as a tool to address some of the challenges in journalism. SLAJ has a Code of Ethics and Practice that all journalists should inculcate into the practice of journalism.