20 September 2013

Sierra Leone: Magistrate May Punish Media Houses for Violating Sexual Offences Act

Magistrate Tonia Barnett, presiding at the Freetown Magistrates' court No.2, yesterday issued stern warning to all local media practitioners covering the ongoing alleged rape case involving the former Deputy Minister of Education, Mamoud Tarawallie, to desist from publishing the rape victim's name and photo.

Magistrate Barnett said the court will take serious action against the publisher of Standard Times, Philip Neville, who on Thursday, 19 September 2013 had published the photo and name of the alleged victim of rape.

The Magistrate said such practice was against section 41 of the Sexual Offences Act of 2012. She noted that using the name and photo of the victim may tarnish the image and reputation of the victim, as well as endanger her life.

She told the court that a person found in contravention of the said section may be fined Le.10 million Leones or serve a jail term of three, while emphasizing that taking action on the errant publisher would serve as a deterrent to other media houses.

In a related development, the Independent Media Commission has in a press release condemned the presenter of 'Monologue' and the publisher of Standard Times newspaper for being in gross violation of section 24 of the Media Code of Practice which stipulates that the press shall not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification, unless there is adequate justification, and by law, they are free to do so.

The Commission said such mode of journalism was unacceptable, and that it has instituted measures to appropriately address the breach of the Media Code of Practice. The Commission warns media institutions to strictly adhere to the principle of court reporting, as the matter is sub-judice.

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