Sierra Leone Repeals Criminal Libel Law

Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio has signed the amended law, effectively repealing the 55-year-old seditious libel section of the Public Order Act 1965 that criminalised free speech and stifled journalism in the West African nation.

President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists: Ahmed Sahid Nasralla

 “I have always argued that the repeal will unshackle free speech, expand democratic spaces, and consolidate our democracy. It will open up the space for the growth of the media industry in the country. Professionalism will be enhanced and the best and brightest and more women, especially, will be encouraged to work their trade,” he said.

He recalled recently meeting the leadership of the Independent Media Commission, which regulates the media, and the Ministry of Information and Communications to discuss possible support to 130 registered newspapers, 165 registered radio stations, and 42 registered television stations to thrive and evolve in a country with an enviable history of pioneering journalism in West Africa.

“In its Global Expression Report 2019-2020 -The state of freedom of expression around the world, Sierra Leone has been ranked by the global organisation, Article 19, among the top five countries in Africa for facilitating and supporting freedom of expression. It is acclamation well-deserved and a moment of inspiration to aspire to do more. And that is why we are here,” he noted.

President Bio said for more than half a century, the country had a legislative and governance regime that criminalised journalism, adding that successive governments had failed to abolish the law that threatened civil liberties and had abused it over the course of half a century.

Members of the diplomatic community and stakeholders at the occasion

“But the criminal and seditious libel law was simply a bad law. The law presumed that persons arrested were guilty even before they were tried. Truth could not be a strong defence or any defence at all. With the application of the law, everybody involved in the production and dissemination of the alleged libellous publication or broadcast could be liable for summary prosecution and imprisonment.

“Enforcing criminal libel laws contravenes international democratic governance practices. It contravenes international human rights treaties, to which Sierra Leone is a signatory, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 19(3) of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. All of those international commitments condemn limitations to the right to free expression,” he said.

Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, said history was made on Tuesday 23rd July when the distinguished Members of Parliament, in an exemplary demonstration of patriotism repealed Part V of the Public Order Act that once criminalised libel and sedition, noting that the Criminal Libel Law being expunged will continue to expand Sierra Leone and the media landscape.

“Decades-long thirst for good governance and accountability and freedom by the media, and by extension, the citizens were accomplished by a quest for action by the President. I salute the parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle who jumped on the movement of the president for taking the bold step to repeal this old and obnoxious law. I, therefore, implore media owners, publishers, and practitioners to guard against the unfortunate invasion of their profession by imposters,” he noted.

A representative from civil society, Lawyer Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, expressed excitement at the feat and hope for the future of journalism, adding that the day should be set aside and commemorated every year as a national day of press freedom.

President of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, thanked the President for mustering the courage of a soldier to expunge the law that hindered the growth of journalism in the country. He added that the occasion was the end of a long journey in terms of legislative reforms but the beginning of a long journey for professional journalism democratic good governance.

The British High Commissioner, Simon Mustard, said Sierra Leone had taken a significant step forward in enhancing Human Rights with the repeal of the law and the enactment of the Independent Media Commission Act 2020. He emphasised that the day should be celebrated for media freedom and by all Sierra Leoneans.

Salonejamboree Launches New Website & Mobile App

SaloneJamboree has launched its Android Mobile App and a newly designed website in a bid to advance its market reach and provide more access of contents on the emerging Arts, entertainment, culture and tourism industry in Sierra Leone.

Murtala Mohamed Kamara

The Mobile App was created by a team of experts from Jamboree Consult which is a subsidiary of SaloneJamboree. It is available on the Google Playstore to all Android devices for free.

Founder and CEO of SaloneJamboree, Murtala Mohamed Kamara said SaloneJamboree Newspaper is steadily moving to digital. “We want to increase our readership and help promote our clients’ products far and wide using this platform. We also want to promote our rich endowment in the arts and entertainment industry and the tourism sector thereby helping in the rebranding efforts of Sierra Leone,” Kamara said of the new app.

Kamara said with the new website and Mobile App, SaloneJamboree subscribers now have access to reliable and current information on arts and entertainment at their doorstep. The new mobile app has distinct features.  It has live feed from SaloneJamboree Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. You can follow SaloneJamboree newspaper articles and follow posts from various SaloneJamboree social media platforms from the mobile app.

SaloneJamboree Magazine

The App also hosts an Online Radio station (Think Radio) which is presently on test transmission on the App. Think Network is a partnership between SaloneJamboree and Prime International. Subscribers will have access to live streaming of events in and out of Sierra Leone.

The SaloneJamboree Mobile App is the latest accomplishment of Sierra Leone’s foremost Arts and Entertainment Newspaper. SaloneJamboree became the first on-line newspaper to be launched in Sierra Leone on the 29th of May, 2009 by the late former Deputy Minister of Information, Hon. Haja Saidata Sesay. The print newspaper was launched a year later, followed by a Jamboree Consultancy outfit.

The CEO is urging individuals and institutions to take advantage of this unique opportunity by advertising their products and services to hundreds of thousands of potential customers using these platforms.

Sierra Leone: Five Journalists on trial for defamation

Proprietor and managing editor of the Standard Times newspaper, Philip Neville, and four other journalists in Sierra Leone are standing trial for alleged defamatory publication and undermining the government of Sierra Leone.

Philip Neville

Philip Neville, Clifford Kabbia and Mustapha Sesay of Standard Times Newspaper together with Ibrahim Alusine Kamara and Moisa Keikura of Sierra Express Media and Future Newspaper respectively on Wednesday 15th May, 2019 made their third appearance before Magistrate Hannah Bonnie of Court No. 1.

The trial of the journalists just happened after the president promised Sierra Leoneans during the State Opening of Parliament on 2nd May 2019, that he is committed to repeal the seditious libel law, section of the Public Order Act 1965, which criminalizes defamation and seditious libel.

Few days after President Bio’s pronouncement, the CID Director, Gabriel Tommy, filed charges against the journalists alleging the five journalists defame his character in the Standard Times and Future Newspapers.

Each defendant was granted bailed in the sum of Le 20, 000, 000 and the matter adjourned on Wednesday 22nd May, 2019.

Public Order Act haunting Free Press in Sierra Leone

By Alpha B. Kamara

Cartoon created by De Monk

While the world observe Press Freedom Day on Friday journalists in Sierra Leone are still haunted by the 1965 Public Order Act which
criminalises any publication that is deemed defamatory or seditious.

Despite Sierra Leone’s constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and the press the 1965 Public Order Act is often put to use by the Government and public officials.

“I am pleased to inform you that a Cabinet paper with full concurrence from the Attorney General is now before Cabinet for consideration. It is my honest and genuine view that Part Five of the Public Order Act of 1965 should be repealed and will be repealed in the shortest possible time,” President Bio announced.

President Julius Maada Bio promised the imminent repeal of the criminal libel and sedition laws and the creation of a fund to support journalists
while interacting with journalists during his maiden media cocktail meeting on December 5, 2018 in the capital, Freetown.

Part Five of Sierra Leone’s Public Order Act criminalises any publication that is deemed defamatory or seditious and has been used as a regime to unduly target and imprison media practitioners and silence dissident views.

The government frequently interferes with the work of journalists and media outlets in an attempt to control content. In February 2015, Ibrahim Bundu, the majority leader in Parliament, warned journalists to cease discussing the auditor general’s report on the management of the country’s Ebola Fund, or risk being found in contempt of Parliament.

A free press is ‘cornerstone’ for accountability and ‘speaking truth to power’: Guterres

At a time when disinformation and mistrust of the news media is growing, a free press is “essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights”, said the UN Secretary-General, in his message for World Press Freedom Day, marked on Friday.

No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information, said António Guterres, describing unfettered journalism as “the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power.”

This years commemorations which began on Thursday across the world, are focussing on the powerful role that good reporting plays in championing democracy and free elections, when disinformation is becoming a larger problem in even the world’s oldest and most sophisticated democratic systems.   

“Facts, not falsehoods, should guide people as they choose their representatives”, said the UN chief, noting that “while technology has transformed the ways in which we receive and share information, sometimes it is used to mislead public opinion or to fuel violence and hatred.”

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), almost 100 journalists were killed going about their work in 2018, with hundreds imprisoned. A total of 1,307 journalists were killed between 1994, and last year.

Mr. Guterres said he was “deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks and the culture of impunity…When media workers are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price.”

The head of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said in her message for the day that it was essential to “guarantee freedom of opinion through the free exchange of ideas and information, based on factual truths.”

She said societies which value a free press, needed to “constantly vigilant. We must act together to protect the freedom of expression and safety of journalists”.

A free media is a “prerequisite” for the proper functioning of democracies, she added: “Independent journalism provides an opportunity to present facts to citizens and to form an opinion. Press freedom guarantees transparent societies where everyone can access information”.

Among the commemorative events that got underway on Thursday, were a global conference on “Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation” in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, jointly organized by the Government and the African Union Commission, together with UNESCO; and a conference in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on the same theme, organized by the local UNESCO office in partnership with the Ministry of Information.

A high-level event takes place at UN Headquarters in New York on Friday where the Secretary-General and President of the UN General Assembly are due to speak, followed by an expert roundtable

President Bio working on repealing the Seditious Libel Law

President Julius Maada Bio has told journalists in Freetown that the Government is at an advanced stage in the repeal of Part V of the 1965 Public Order Act that criminalises libel.

Press Secretary Yusuf keketoma Sandi at the inaugural media cocktail

He was addressing the inaugural Media Cocktail at Radisson Blu, organised by the Office of the Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman. The occasion brought together over 120 foreign and local journalists, editors and media owners.

“You could all recall that in Paragraph 147 of my maiden address at the State Opening of the First Session of the Fifth Parliament, I pledged my Government’s commitment to among other things ‘repeal the seditious libel law’ and ‘enhance the capacity of the IMC to enforce the IMC Act’,” he said.

The President added that that was in fulfilment of his manifesto commitment, noting that everyone was aware that: “Part V of the Public Order Act criminalises any publication that is deemed defamatory or seditious and has been used as a regime to unduly target and imprison media pr  actitioners and silence dissident views.”

“Therefore, I am pleased to inform you that a Cabinet paper with full concurrence from the Attorney General is now before Cabinet for consideration. It is my honest and genuine view that Part Five of the Public Act of 1965 should be repealed and will be repealed in the shortest possible time,” he said.

He, however, cautioned that: “The repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act does not envisage a void in the accountability matrix relating to freedom of the press and expression, nor would it imply softening the legal regime or grant a carte blanche to journalists to defame people”.

President Bio noted that even where the justification for its retention may abound, criminalising libel was no longer fanciful, adding that the good news was that the government would soon bring an end to the breach of about half a dozen international conventions to which Sierra Leone was a signatory.

“When we repeal the Public Order Act of 1965, we hope to open up Sierra Leone’s media sector to new investment and growth,foster creativity and innovation, and support the development of high-quality journalism which will, in turn, support good governance and democratic accountability,” he said.

He also promised that his government would give the media regulatory body, Independent Media Commission, the leverage required to work independently, announced that the government subvention due the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists had been budgeted for and was available to access as and when they were ready without any preconditions.

How peace journalism can help the media cover elections in Africa


Voting in the presidential run-off elections in Mali, recently. EPA/Tanya Bindra

Several countries in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon, hold crucial elections this year. Some of the polls are likely to be marked by protests as well as clampdowns on dissenting voices as well as the news media and internet access. All this amid the spread of fake news.

Author: Professor of Journalism in the Department of Journalism, Film and Television, University of Johannesburg
Disclosure statement: Ylva Rodny-Gumede does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Johannesburg provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA.

It’s important to consider the role of the media in this heady mix.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the role of the media in instigating, maintaining, and exacerbating violence through their news coverage. War and conflict sell and make the headlines.

And, the news media are predisposed to using frames and a language that conform to what peace scholar Johan Galtung has labelled “war journalism”. This is reporting that emphasises conflict over peaceful resolutions, differing viewpoints over common ground, and sensationalism over depth and context. The result is that audiences are given the impression that conflict is inevitable, and that peace or conflict resolution are beyond reach.

This can also happen during the coverage of elections when a great many things can go wrong leading to best practice and ethics being overlooked. When this happens the media can be party to exacerbating conflict and violence.

A different approach is therefore required. The media are responsible for reporting accurately and efficiently on different political parties, candidates, political party programmes and policies. This also extends to providing platforms for debate between contesting parties as well as forums for discussions with the public.

A few simple criteria can be used to judge whether or not the media are doing a good job. How balanced and fair are they in their coverage. Are all parties getting a fair share of coverage? Are the media playing a role in monitoring fair play by all parties before, during and after elections? And are the results covered fairly?

The media can play a role in creating peaceful and non-violent elections. They can do so by following some simple approaches set out under the alternative model of peace journalism. This puts emphasis on conflict resolution, analysis of the underlying causes of conflict, the use of alternative news sources, and the use of language that doesn’t over-emphasise or play up conflict.

Where the media has played a negative role

The media were implicated in fuelling violence in the Kenyan elections in 2007-2008, playing up divisions between the two main contesting coalitions parties and their candidates. Importantly, the Kenyan media failed to mitigate hate speech, spreading violent imagery pitting communities against one another.

Equally, the media were implicated in the controversies surrounding the controversial Zambian presidential elections in 2016. They were accused of waging a propaganda war, with the private media backing opposition parties, and the public media supporting the governing Patriotic Front party and its incumbent candidate, President Edward Lungu.

In Africa, biased media coverage in favour of incumbent presidents has been cited as among the reasons voters have little faith that elections are credible, and the outcomes legitimate.

Here, social media, and Twitter in particular, have reinforced the role that the media play as a force for both good and bad in elections. No more evident is this through the spread of fake news.

How can elections be covered differently?

Doing things differently

The media can play a role in creating peaceful and non-violent elections. Research shows that journalists are well aware of the pitfalls of playing up conflict at the detriment of conflict resolution. There is an openness to change, and to adopt new reporting practices, including entirely new models of journalism.

Peace journalism has been highlighted as such an alternative model because it emphasises conflict resolution, analysis of the underlying causes of conflict, the use of alternative news sources, and the use of language that does not over-emphasise or play up conflict.

But peace journalism has also been criticised for being too philosophical and idealistic. In some instances critics have likened it to “sunshine journalism”. Foremost, it’s the model’s practical application and implementation that has been queried.

So, can the peace journalism model work?

Research  in South Africa shows that audiences who were shown television news inserts reworked according to the peace journalism model, were more likely to pick up on as well as understand the underlying causes of conflict and to see opportunities for conflict resolution; rather than seeing conflict as inevitable and without any chance of being resolved.

Research from the Philippines and the Middle East shows similar results.


Research among journalists shows that they are well aware of the many pitfalls of covering conflict. But they also argue that it’s not their role to act as “peacemakers”.

That said, there is agreement that journalism practices could be changedto reflect alternative views, thus showing that consensus or common ground can exist, even between two warring or opposing factions.

It seems peace journalism provides a good model for reflection and for training journalists to be more sensitive when reporting on conflict.

The article was first published by The Conversation