The secretary-general of Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has slammed media professional serving in various positions in the current government for 'not doing enough to help the country's media grow'.
Speaking last Wednesday, shortly after the closing session of a political reporting training for journalists support by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla averred that apart from paying their yearly membership subscriptions, journalists in the corridors of power have not been supporting the association's stride to repeal of Criminal Libel Laws in a bid to enhance freedom of expression and of the press.
"As our colleagues who have unhindered access to His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, we expect that they should be at the forefront to constantly remind him of his decade-long promise to repeal the Criminal Libel Law. Instead, they are pretending as if it is not important to them. But I personally know that when power leaves them, and the table turns, the media is their fallback position and that is the time they will begin to write and speak against the bad law," Nasralla said.
With a record number of journalists currently serving in the All People's Congress (APC) administration, Nasralla believes that SLAJ shouldn't have been bogged down in its pursuit of a repeal of the infamous media law.
He cited names such as Alhaji Hon. I.B. Kargbo, Mohamed Bangura, Abdulai Bayraytay, Sheka Tarawallie, Cornellius Deveaux, Ismael Koroma, Sorie Sudan Sesay, Chernor Ojuku Sesay, John Baimba Sesay, Mohamed 'One Drop' Sankoh among others, who should have helped in the fight to get the law expunged.
"Let's take Hon. I.B. Kargbo for example, when he was President of SLAJ he fought hard unsuccessfully to get the government to repeal the law; but when he was eventually appointed Minister of Information and Communications he suddenly had a change of mind. Then came Mohamed Bangura and Cornellius Deveaux as heads of that ministry. Mohamed was a victim of the law during his days with The New Breed newspaper; while he fooled us into believing that President Koroma was now ready to fulfill his promise, his deputy Deveaux was busy opposing a repeal of the law," said Nasralla, adding that SLAJ is absolutely disappointed.
According to him, his 'political' colleagues seemed to have forgotten too soon that it was in fact the media that catapulted them into their various positions in government.
"It is a legitimate call we have been making all these years and they know it," fumed Nasralla. "If we really are in a democracy, the media, as well as ordinary citizens, should have no limitations whatsoever to scrutinise the activities of public officials and hold them to account. But a law like that hangs over our heads like the Sword of Damocles and we are intimidated," he maintained.
Nasralla also lamented government's failure to providing a piece of land to SLAJ for the construction of their secretariat/headquarters, despite lots of efforts.
He added that the recent action by government to turn down most of the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee, including a proposal for a separate chapter in the constitution on media freedoms and freedom of expression was unacceptable.
"Those proposals were all from the people from whom the government derives its legitimacy; so I actually don't understand why the government initiated the review process in the first place. Why waste billions of dollars on an exercise that will bear no fruit?" he queried and added that SLAJ was currently looking at the White Paper on the CRC recommendations and would soon come out with a position statement.