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SLAJ Raises Concerns Over Enactment of the Cyber Crime Bill

By Ranger

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on the 23rd March 2021 met with officials of the Ministry of Information and Communications to start engagement on the Cyber Crime Bill.

Mohamed Rahman Swarray, the Minister of information and Communications took the cross-section of SLAJ Executive and the National Coordinator of the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) through a power-point presentation on key aspects of the Bill and responded to what he calls “certain misconceptions” of the proposed legislation.

The Minister described the powers the Bill gives to his office as overwhelming and rejected them entirely; saying that no Minister or institution should have such powers.

The SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, expressed his disappointment that the media fraternity until now was left out of crucial consultations that took place during the process of drafting the bill. Nevertheless, Nasralla said SLAJ is not averse to the enactment of legislation that seeks to enhance protection, security, and responsible use of the cyberspace, but that the Association is concerned about a possible interference with the civic space and infringement on fundamental human rights of free speech and people’s privacy.

He informed the Ministry that SLAJ has consulted its in-house lawyers and international press freedom organizations for a technical and legal opinion on the bill. SLAJ and the MRCG, he said, will hold a workshop with media leaders and journalists to discuss the bill and make valid inputs that will be submitted to the Ministry and the Sierra Leone Parliament.

Meanwhile, the Coordinator of the Cyber Security Unit in the Ministry, Morie Saffa, apologised on behalf of the Ministry for leaving SLAJ and key media stakeholders like the IMC, RAIC, and MRCG out of initial consultations on the drafting of the bill, but noted that it is never too late for the media to make valid input to the bill, which has now been tabled in Parliament.

IT was indicated that in the past, politicians in Sierra Leone would invoke sections of the notorious Public Order Act that criminalized libel to suppress free speech and the Press. Several sections of that Act were repealed in 2020.

But the proposed cyber-crime legislation that has been tabled in the Parliament of Sierra Leone by President Bio’s Government, is even more punitive than the Public Order Act (POA). Whereas POA’s maximum sentence is two years, the cyber-crime Bill allows for sentences of up to five years for actions deemed “cyber-crimes.”

Everyone is a potential target for criminalization of speech if the ruling party deems one’s online content offensive.

The Bill, in itself, as raised by a media practitioner lacks clear definitions of what constitutes a cyber-crime, ceding too much power to the Minister of Information to draw regulations and determine punitive measures.

This is what journalist and free speech campaigner – Alhaji Koroma, who like many in and out of Sierra Leone are concerned about the proposed legislation, said:
“Digitization has been a huge boost to Sierra Leoneans in recent years, making new spaces available online to freely express and share sensitive views and information on the country’s political and socio-economic issues”.

He lamented that Sierra Leone’s current laws on free speech in digital spaces do not adequately protect citizens from targeted harassment or arbitrary threats and arrests.
Alhaji said a proposed Legislation could turn a citizen’s smartphone into a crime scene.

Parliament proposed the Bill after a series of violent incidents last year that were sparked by social media messages. It intends to offer clarity regarding cybercrime offenses and punishments and better handle national security and crime in digital spaces.

Last year, when violent incidents broke out in Tombo and Makeni, the Government quickly pointed to a social media personality.

In a bid to tackle the situation, the Government proposed a cybersecurity bill that would deter people from listening and sharing virulent messages that spread hate, incitement and invectives against ruling-party politicians.

Sahr Mattew Nyuma, Sierra Leone’s leader of Government business in Parliament, warned last August in Parliament that “everyone will be vulnerable if the country does not enact tough laws to deal with the situation.”

Common issues on cybersecurity laws and regulations, including cybercrime, applicable laws, preventing attacks, specific sectors, corporate governance, litigation, insurance and investigatory and police powers — have already passed the pre-legislative stage in parliament.

Leader of the main opposition party All Peoples’ Congress, Chernor Ramadan Maju Bah, described the bill as sensitive because it affects everyone.

The Director-General of the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), Daniel Kaitibie, also welcomed the cybersecurity law and said the nation is working to reform digital rights.

However, the proposed bill spreads fear and grants further legal pretext to clamp down on dissent — to seize the age’s prized possession — the mobile phone.

Several citizens and opposition members argue that the bill serves as a conduit for Government’s suppression of digital rights and freedoms — especially in instances where the Government falters.

The cybercrime bill is said to be “a new Public Order Act for the electronic age,” according to Mohamed Gibril Sesay, in his March 19 editorial in the Sierra Leone’s Standard Times.

The Minister of State and opposition politician has openly condemned the cybersecurity bill in his op-ed.

In the past, politicians would invoke Sections of the Public Order Act that criminalized libel to suppress free speech and the Press. Several Sections of that Act were repealed in 2020.

It must be sounded clearly that the the cybercrime Bill is even more punitive than the Public Order Act. Whereas POA’s maximum sentence is two years, the cybercrime bill allows for sentences up to five years for actions deemed “cyber- crimes.”

Everyone is a potential target for criminalization of speech if the ruling party deems one’s online content offensive.
Lamentably, the bill lacks clear definitions of what constitutes a cyber-crime, ceding too much power to the Minister of Information to draw regulations and determine punitive measures.

Under Part III: Powers and Procedures, the bill also cedes too much power to the Police to take away phones and computers and gives too much latitude to State agents to turn whatever phone of their choosing into a “crime scene.”

It prescribes methods through which computers or phones may be seized if a judge authorizes it. All that’s required to get the process started is the Police Officer’s belief that the seizure is justified.

That’s where the potential for misuse looms very large against every journalist, civil society activist or an ordinary citizen who uses a phone or computer.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper

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German Ambassador Promises Strong Cooperation with SLAJ

By Ranger

Horst Gruner, the German Ambassador to Sierra Leone, has assured the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) of his Embassy’s willingness to partner with the Association to implement projects that are of mutual interest and benefit to both parties.

He was speaking to a cross-section of the SLAJ National Executive during a courtesy call on the Ambassador at his Hill Station Embassy on 19th February, 2021.

The President of SLAJ, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, gave a brief background of the Association which he said was founded in 1971 to represent the interest of journalists and promote the practice of the journalism profession. He informed the Ambassador about SLAJ’s contribution to the country’s democracy, the fight against corruption by holding the Government and public officials to account, its role in national emergencies with reference to the Ebola outbreak (2014-2016) and the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the historic repeal of the criminal libel law last year 2020 as some of the key achievements of the Association as it celebrates 50 years of existence this year 2021.

The SLAJ President recalled the good relationship with the German Embassy in the 80s and 90s during which the country’s journalists benefitted from training opportunities under InVent and Radio Deutsche Welle, and urged the Ambassador for a return to those good old days.

Nasralla dilated on the challenges facing the media, especially the print media in terms of printing facilities and technicians.

“Most of the printing presses servicing the newspaper industry in Sierra Leone are German-made, but we lack the technicians to maintain these machines. Every time there’s a problem with the machines, the Proprietors would have to import technicians from Ghana or Nigeria to maintenance them, and that costs a lot of money. So there is an apparent need of technical training in this area,” said Nasralla.

In this vein, the German Ambassador informed the SLAJ delegation about the German Senior Expert Service which comprises German retired professionals in various fields or disciplines.

Ambassador Horst Gruner assured SLAJ of the Embassy’s willingness to partner with the Association once it sees its areas of interest. He said the Embassy will link SLAJ with retired professionals who are willing to support developing countries, especially print and radio technicians.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper

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New Year 2021 Message From SLAJ National President Ahmed Sahid Nasralla

NEW YEAR 2021 MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT

‘Let us be selfish for once’

Dear Colleagues,

Happy New Year 2021 to all of you.

The year 2020 has been a difficult one for our country, as with the rest of the world. Every sector was affected, including the media. We struggled, but in the thick of this COVID-19 crisis we demonstrated our usual resilience and we were able to record some remarkable achievements.

Thanks to Mercury International, Africell and Orange who still continue to support majority of the media through regular advertising.

*COVID-19 RESPONSE*
Like with the Ebola outbreak in 2014, we were proactive in supporting the Government of Sierra Leone in the fight against the virus. Even before we recorded the index COVID-19 case we swiftly formed the SLAJ Corona Virus Response Committee to coordinate our response and to interface with both the ministries of Information and Communications, and Health and Sanitation.

During the three days lockdown in April 2020 (and in May) we coordinated a national radio simulcast program to bring to the public updates on the lockdown and the correct information on the pandemic. The simulcast program, which ran for about 8 hours daily, served as a clearing house for misinformation and fake news on the fight against the virus.

Eventually, NaCOVERC supported the Dreb Corona simulcast program which ran for three months; and the European Union also supported the TrueTok bot Corona, a similar program (twice weekly) to debunk fake news and misinformation around the fight against COVID-19.
To a large extent, these programs helped to educate the public on the preventive measures, fake news around COVID-19 and limiting the spread of the virus.

As we enter the New Year the number of COVID-19 cases has started going up, and so NaCOVERC has approved another round of national simulcast program (this time weekly, and separately on radio and tv) to sustain the public education on the virus and to encourage people to continue to observe the preventive measures. There will also be a bi-weekly simulcast at District level to address specific issues relating to each district. The national radio simulcast is expected to start on Sunday 3rd January, 2021 at 6pm.

So far we commend all radio and TV stations, newspapers, and colleagues who have been supporting these programs.

On 11th December, 2020, at their awards ceremony the Women’s Forum awarded SLAJ for the Association’s distinguished contribution to the fight against COVID-19.

*THE REPEAL OF PART 5*
For the first time in our Association’s 50 years of existence we are going to observe World Press Freedom Day without having to call on the Government to expunge Criminal and Seditious Libel law from the law books, as the bad law has been repealed.

This is a huge victory that calls for celebration on the one hand, and consolidation of this new found freedom through capacity building for all journalists to ensure professional and ethical practice on the other.

For this landmark achievement, we want to thank His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio and his Government, the Parliament of Sierra Leone, the International Community, CSOs, media stakeholders and international press freedom bodies.

This is not only a victory for the media, but also for the citizens, and Sierra Leone as a country.

*THE IMC ACT 2020*
The repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel law came with the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act 2020. Among other things, the IMC Act 2020- which will take full effect this year 2021- requires media houses to operate more responsibly as businesses with full compliance with statutory obligations such as the payment of taxes to the National Revenue Authority (NRA), payment of salaries to journalists in accordance with the Labour laws and payment of NASSIT contributions for reporters and other media workers.

SLAJ, through the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) and the IMC, have conducted several workshops across the country to help Editors and Station Managers to understand the provisions of the IMC Act 2020 and to put their media houses in order.

Meanwhile, the IMC Code of Practice- which contains the rules and regulations governing the operations of media houses in the country- is still under review, following which it will be taken to Parliament for ratification.

SLAJ will have its chance to look at the draft document thoroughly to ensure that it is in line with the aspirations of the freedom we have fought for.

*ANNUAL SUBVENTION*
Towards the end of the year 2020 SLAJ received its annual subvention for the period of Le250 million from the Government of Sierra Leone. This subvention is tied to a budget submitted, which included allocations to the Regional Executives and all affiliate bodies.

These allocations will be accounted for with proper documentation of expenditures before we can request for the 2021 subvention.

Therefore, we urge the Regional Executives and affiliate bodies to implement their activities as soon as possible and submit their reports to the Secretariat.

*LAND FOR SLAJ HEADQUARTERS*
We are still working with the Ministry of Lands for the allocation of a suitable plot of land in the capital city for the construction of the National SLAJ Headquarters, as promised by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio.

We have been taken around the Western Area Urban by officials of the Ministry of Lands but we are yet to find a suitable piece of land.

*LAND FOR SLAJ REGIONAL SECRETARIATS*

Meanwhile, the Minister of Lands, Dr. Dennis Sandy, has instructed his ministry’s regional offices to allocate suitable pieces of State land to our regional executives for the construction of our regional secretariats.

The regional executives in the South and the North are following up on this and we hope by mid this year the allocations would have been made.

For the Eastern Region, I had the honour of turning the sod in November 2020 for the construction of the SLAJ Regional Secretariat East in Kenema town. This is a first in the history of SLAJ, and we want to commend the leadership of SLAJ East and all those well-meaning individuals (especially Ibrahim Brima Swarray) in the district who are supporting the building project.

The SLAJ East leadership and members have challenged themselves to complete the building this year and officially open it as part of activities marking our 50th anniversary.

*WEBSITE AND MEMBERSHIP*
You must have noticed that the SLAJ website www.slaj.sl has been down for a while now as we are working on a more professional, interactive and reliable one.

This has caused the delay in opening of the process for admission of new members into the Association, and we apologise for this. When the website is completed hopefully by the end of this month of January, journalists wishing to become members of SLAJ will have the opportunity to apply online and their applications will be processed swiftly.

*MEMBERS’ WELFARE*
This is one area we have not been paying attention to as an Association over the years.

However, one key aspect of our welfare will be addressed with compliance of the IMC Act 2020 i.e. payment of salaries in line with Labour laws and payment of NASSIT contributions for journalists by their employers.

Moreover, there’s the need to establish a SLAJ Membership Welfare Fund to address other welfare issues from time to time. Details of this will have to be carefully thought out so that such a scheme is not abused in the future.

Currently, we are confronted with a situation involving the son of one of our members who urgently needs a liver transplantation which cannot be done here in Sierra Leone. The son is a final Year Mass Communications student and a potential journalist for that matter.

The Executive have met and decided that SLAJ should lead the campaign to raise the money needed for the surgery abroad. We are in touch with our colleague to get all the information we need to start the campaign.

Meanwhile, welfare also means ensuring our colleagues stay employed. As you are aware, several of our colleagues resigned their jobs at the SLBC, claiming intimidation and unfair treatment. Before they resigned, some of them met with me to register their concerns. After listening to their narratives, I advised them to go back and do a letter with a list of all the staff affected and stating the instances of harassment, intimidation and unfair treatment so we will take it up with the SLBC leadership through our representative in the SLBC Board, as we did with the issue of Claudius Beckley. However, a day or two after our meeting, we learnt that our colleagues have tendered in their resignations.

Our representative in the Board will give a full report on all of this in our coming Annual General Meeting.

*WIMSAL MEDIATION COMMITTEE*
The Mediation Committee set up to look into the WIMSAL impasse is at an advance stage in completing their assignment. It has been challenging to meet with the various persons and groups of interest, especially with the COVID-19 restrictions, but the Committee has managed under the circumstances to make progress.

We are expecting the final report as soon as possible.

*EU BEACH CLEAN-UP EVENT*
For the first time, SLAJ volunteered and supported the EU annual beach cleanup event at the Lumley beach, Aberdeen, Freetown.

About 40 of our members, including members from the regions, turned up at the beach and we cleaned up debris coming from the sea. We found this as a worthy cause to help keep the beach clean and protect life at sea.

During his last lunch with journalists at Country Lodge, the EU Ambassador Tom Vens commended SLAJ for the support and described the event as the most successful cleanup they have had because of our involvement.

We have made a commitment to fully involve in future cleanup events and to strengthen our relationship with the EU.

At that lunch, the EU Ambassador announced that they were putting together a training scheme for journalists who will be interested in reporting on the environment.

*PLANS FOR 2021*
The year 2021 marks our 50th Anniversary as an Association. To this end we have established the SLAJ 50th Anniversary National Planning Committee comprising the National Executive, the Regional Executives and the heads of our affiliate bodies. This is to ensure that we take ownership of the celebrations and oversee the implementation of every activity.

The Committee has met once and has appointed sub-committees to deal with specific issues such as Fund raising and Golden Jubilee Souvenirs.

The Committee also put out a call for ideas to encourage the general membership to contribute ideas on how they want SLAJ to celebrate this once-in-a-life-time anniversary. Sadly, no contribution was received.

So we are starting the Golden Jubilee year with a National Retreat of the National and Regional Executives to finalise plans for the 50th Anniversary and develop a strategic document that will guide us to the next Tri-Annual Conference in 2022.

The Retreat will also look at the governance structure of SLAJ and certain aspects of our constitution, recommendations of which will be taken to the next AGM for the consideration of the general membership.

After the retreat we will officially launch the official logo of the 50th Anniversary and the events calendar for the year 2021.

It is the hope of the Committee to implement at least one activity every month throughout 2021.

*APPEAL*
Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to implore all journalists to be selfish for once and put all our energies, time and resources toward a successful celebration of our Golden Jubilee.

And the good thing is we are celebrating this historic anniversary on a platform of FREEDOM.
I want to see a replication of the passion we put into defending and promoting the interests of our political parties in this anniversary.

If we don’t celebrate, nobody will celebrate for us.

*TRIBUTE*
Meanwhile, let us remember our fallen colleagues in 2020 and wish them a peaceful rest and may God provide for the families they left behind.

To those who are sick, we pray that God/Allah stretches His Hand of healing upon you.

May the year 2021 bring us no harm or sorrow, but joy and celebration after celebration. Amen/Ameena.

Happy New Year once again.

Long live SLAJ.
Long live Sierra Leone.
I thank you.

Sincerely,
Your humble servant:

Ahmed Sahid Nasralla
NATIONAL PRESIDENT

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Holding 2020 Presidential Media Cocktail… Bio Romances With the Fourth Estate

By Ranger

President of the Republic of Sierra Leone Dr. Julius Maada Bio, on the 18th December 2020 met with a cross section of the Media during the Presidential Media Cocktail which took place at State House in Freetown.

He intimated that the year 2020 has been truly remarkable and exciting not only for the media in Sierra Leone but also the country adding that just this week, the Board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) unanimously approved Sierra Leone for a Compact.

The President told newsmen that they have achieved such because of the tremendous gains they have made in controlling corruption, investing in people, protecting democratic rights and enabling economic freedoms.

He assured that they will continue to improve on these gains and strengthen their partnership with the Government and People of the United States of America. The First Gentleman thanked the Honourable Vice President for his leadership and the entire team at the MCC Unit in Sierra Leone for their relentless hard work.

The President analyzed some of the reports by certain local tabloids vis-à-vis the implementation of certain policies and activities by the Government.

He stated that the repeal of Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965 and the enactment of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act 2020 will enhance professionalism in the media with several key benefits that will make the journalism profession an enviable career.

“Particularly, if the Independent Media Commission Act 2020 is carefully implemented, backed by a clear media code of practice, it will attract investment opportunities, enhance social security scheme for media practitioners amongst others,” he maintained adding that following the signing of the repeal, on 28th October, he promised that his Government would review the cases of all persons facing charges of criminal and seditious libel under the old law and it was accomplished.

Making reference to an appeal to the former Attorney General and Minister of Justice not to oppose bail application of Dr Sylvia O. Blyden, President Bio said The Calabash Newspaper on Tuesday 26th May published on its front page: “Yumkella Calls on Bio to be a good Political Samaritan”.

He said for him it was never about being a Political Samaritan because as he argued at the signing of the repeal, civilized and democratic countries cannot be seen as jailers of journalists when journalists exercise their professional responsibility to report objectively and ethically.

He said thankfully information attachés are not around and asked rhetorically: Isn’t it strange that I will not be getting that usual question: “When is the final Information Attachés’ list going to be announced sir?” The main objective of the recruitment and training, he said, was to enhance the capacity of the attachés and support their transitions into their new roles as budding diplomats.

President Bio revealed how Government was greatly concerned about the absence of a designated Government print media outlet for the dissemination of Government information following the induced collapse of SLENA and its associated publications; the Sierra Leone Daily Mail and Sierra News.

He said they are pleased to note that the Minister of Information and Communications was able to mobilize and leverage private sector resources to rehabilitate the collapsed building and revitalize Sierra News.

“It is also important to note that through my engagement with the United Kingdom Government, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office has committed to support the development of the Sierra Leone media especially in areas of institutional capacity building of professional bodies like SLAJ, its affiliate bodies and the Independent Media Commission,” the President stated.

He said he has also been reliably informed by the Minister that the Ministry of Information and Communications in collaboration with SLAJ has put the requisite tools together to host an investment conference on the Media that will attract investment in the media to alleviate media poverty and poverty in the media.

The President revealed that the investment conference is expected to hold early next year in commemorating the 50th anniversary of SLAJ and the 60th Anniversary of Independence respectively.

“I also want to commend the Minister and his team for the successful inaugural media retreat on our manifesto commitments held in Bo this week,” he commended.

On his part, the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, delivered a comprehensive and impressive statement.

He started off by saying that it is the season of Christmas and a time of the year when media practitioners socially interact with the President.

“It is also that time of the year when as little boys we used to go around the community singing carols and playing funny games,” he nostalgically looked back but lamented that the world has changed, and that tradition is slowly fading.

He said even during this COVID pandemic, which has prescribed a “new normal” in the way we live, dress, and work, it is noticeable how the President has arranged his choir men and women to sing to journalists carols of their achievements, packaged in well-designed project albums under different record labels.

The SLAJ President pointed out that in this 2020, dubbed “the year of accelerated delivery” by the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit, – the leading Choir group – the President has launched some 30 project albums ranging from Social Investment Fund and Insurance Scheme for Health Workers to Sexual Offences Model Court and Garbage Trucks.

He underscored that in the last three months alone, the President fast-tracked the acceleration by launching a record breaking of 18 albums.
“If the AWOL National Achievement Awards program was held this year, our President would undisputedly have won Artist of the Year 2020, to the amazement of music godfather Jimmy B, and Steady Bongo,” he said euphemistically.

He said, nevertheless, good prophets are usually not honoured in their own countries.

“Despite launching three hot-selling albums dedicated to the people of Constituency 110 at Goderich, the President’s party lost a key bye-election in that community this month,” Nasralla stated but was quick to state that the President made up for this loss internationally.

He said the very poorly rated ‘Makeni Generator’ and ‘Prison Break’ albums were not enough to deprive His Excellency of being shortlisted for the covetous international MCC Compact Award with the whopping prize money of US$400 million.

The Monk, as he is popularly known, added that shortly after, the President also won the prestigious European Union Budgetary Support award of US$15 million.

He said despite the impact of COVID-19, the year 2020 is ending on a high and promising note for Sierra Leone.

President of SLAJ said he was encouraged early this month by a photo taken in Abidjan of the former President (who is now the Emperor of Bombali) and our love-her-or-loathe-her First Lady.

He said in journalism, they say a photo is worth more than a thousand words.

“The message of peace from that photo is clear; but so also is the message of tension coming from the way the former President gripped his wine glass,” he said.

“Who knows, before the New Year begins, we might just see another unique photo of the First Lady and the new shadow President who addressed the nation today via social media audio,” he jokingly stated.
He said the President must have noticed that in all of the laudable progress the Government is making, the media is slow in telling the stories to the mountain tops.

According to him, that is partly because the media is a very difficult institution to impress adding that no matter how hard you try, the media is usually interested in what you have not done and what you could have done better, and they will tell you to try harder and harder.

He said that is why one section of the media hailing the efforts of the Government, another section trivializing those efforts, a third section is absolutely interested in entirely something else.

The SLAJ President underscored that the media owes the President a lot maintaining that out of nine (9) manifesto commitments to the media, the Government have delivered on two key ones this year- the annual subvention to the umbrella body SLAJ and the landmark repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel law.

“We are in discussions with the Ministry of Information for the holding of an investment conference for the media as part of activities marking our 50th anniversary next year,” he disclosed.

He said it is accepted that to whom much is given, much is expected furthering that the pay back by journalists is to practice the profession responsibly at all times; to guard, protect and promote the peace, stability and unity of the country; hold Government and public officials to account in a responsible manner and help in the fight against corruption; and above all provide timely and accurate information to the public as well as help in educating the masses on national issues.

Nasralla told the President that December is also the season of giving and receiving; few people give and many people expect to receive. He said sadly, because of COVID-19, Santa Claus will not be passing here this December stating that hopefully 2021 will be a year of delivery to the door steps of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.

He stated three (3) things that media practitioners will want the President to deliver on in 2021: one of which is to see an improved relationship with the Opposition parties in the interest of peace, cohesiveness, inclusiveness and stability.

The other is the need to seriously address the ticking youth crisis in the country and to complete the Constitutional Review process to strengthen the governance practice of Separation of Powers.

He then on behalf of SLAJ and the entire media fraternity wished the President, the Chief Minister, the esteemed First Lady, and the People of Sierra Leone happy holidays and a Prosperous New Year 2021.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper

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NASSIT Dines with Journalists & Cements Close Collaboration

At the Golden Tulip Kimbima Hotel in Freetown on the 13th November 2020, journalists were hosted by the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) during its inaugural Press Dinner.

The Director General of NASSIT, Mohamed Fuaad Daboh, in his keynote address intimated his audience that the dinner was a forum where the Trust and its partners in the Fourth Estate interact to foster excellent relationship, strengthen partnership and deepen their understanding on the work of the Scheme.

The Director General emphasised that, “NASSIT is a statutory Public Trust charged with the responsibility of administering Sierra Leone’s National Pension Scheme”.
“The Scheme”, according to Mr. Daboh, “provides retirement and other benefits to meet the contingency needs of workers and their dependants.

Updating the Press on some of the achievements of his administration, Daboh stated that as at September 2020, the Trust had a cumulative figure of 17,730 registered establishments and 245,649 members, and that the Trust had 24,996 pensioners on the payroll, exclusive of the Government and the NPA pensioners for which it was administering payment.

The DG informed his audience that in order to increase accessibility of the Trust’s services to its members, his Management launched the NASSIT telephone hotlines on both Orange and Africell networks, and that they had also developed an active Website, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and a business WhatsApp account. “Our customers can now access our services at the comfort of their homes, offices and or their palms,” he said

The Director General went on to state that NASSIT had re-introduced the pigeon-hole system to effectively monitor benefit claims processing, and that his team also introduced the Customer Birthday Wish programme, “which recognises our esteemed customers on their birthdays, and we organized a first of its kind Customer Service Mobile Clinic in Freetown”.

Mr. Daboh also spoke about Project 54+ which he said would interface with customers from both the public and private sectors, especially those within the ages of 54 to 59 in order to ensure that their data is up-to-date before they applied for their retirement benefits.

He informed journalists that NASSIT had completed a nationwide sensitisation programme for personnel of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), and that they were conducting a similar programme for the Sierra Leone Police to be followed by those for Teachers, Civil Servants and members in the private sector.

The Director General also spoke about the commencement of NASSIT operations in Port Loko, and the acquisition of a parcel of land for the construction of a permanent Regional Office complex in the Northwest Region.

“My Management, in collaboration with the Judiciary of Sierra Leone, has established the Social Security Court for all NASSIT compliance cases. This will definitely address the perennial problems of non-compliance,” Daboh noted.

On the COVID 19 pandemic, Daboh said that despite the challenges it posed on the Scheme’s contribution base, the Trust was able to break new grounds to ensure that contributions collection remained consistent. In addition, the Director General explained that the Trust embarked on intensive information dissemination campaigns through various media platforms on the standard operating procedures for the COVID 19 disease, and also contributed financially to the National Corona Virus Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) for the fight against the deadly disease.

Speaking on the theme, “The Role of the Media in the Enhancement of the NASSIT Scheme”, the DG lauded the contribution of the media to the attainment of the Trust’s objectives.

“The Trust has used various media channels, programmes and activities to not only raise awareness, but also to deepen the knowledge of the Trust’s membership on the operations of the scheme, advertise our products and publicise our activities,” he stated, adding, “You have not only helped in promoting our activities but also served as a channel of feedback from our customers”.

He used the occasion to call on Proprietors of Media Houses to comply with the NASSIT Act.

“As partners in the enhancement of social security, we crave your indulgence to comply with the dictates of the NASSIT Act, and I want to appeal to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists to encourage its members to register their employees and pay contributions on their behalf,” he maintained.

Ahmed Sahid Nasrallah, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists commended the Director General for the tremendous strides taken to change the trajectory at NASSIT. He said as the watchdogs of society, they were impressed with the improvements in the institution, and encouraged the Director General and team to do more.

The SLAJ President entreated his colleagues to continue informing and educating the masses to raise awareness on their responsibility and that of the scheme.

“People should be educated about their entitlements and how to access them,” he maintained.

Nasrallah ended his statement with a call on the Media to seek the welfare of their employees by paying their Social Security contributions and assured NASSIT of full compliance with the provisions of the NASSIT Act next year.

The programme was chaired by the Chairman of the Independent Media Commission, George Khoryama, and the vote of thanks was given by Madam Saptieu Kallon of Radio Democracy 98.1 FM.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper

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SLAJ Thanks Information Minister For Repeal Of Criminal Libel Law

By: Finda Judith Ngaujah
Strategic Communications Unit, Ministry of Information and Communications

Executive members of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on Wednesday, 4th November 2020, paid a thank you visit to the Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, at his Youyi Building office.

SLAJ President, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, during a brief ceremony in the conference hall of the Ministry, thanked the Minister and his team for their hardwork in ensuring that Part 5 of the Public Order Act which criminalized Libel is repealed.

He said that when they first met the Minister he assured of government’s commitment to repeal the Criminal Libel Law, noting that victory is now being celebrated by all.

As they recognize the Ministry’s pivotal role, sincerity and honesty throughout the process, Mr Nasralla hoped that the collaboration they forged during the process will continue with the fulfillment of other commitments made by His Excellency the President.

He appealed to the Minister to help them get their subvention for this year and formally informed him of preparations to celebrate SLAJ’s 50th anniversary in June next year.

The Minister in his response said he was humbled by the visit and expressed excitment for the thoughtful gesture by the Association.

He told the SLAJ delegation that he would be closely associated with next year’s 50th anniversary celebration, saying SLAJ has laid the foundation for future generations.

He said he had been following their concerns regarding people facing trial under the repealed Seditious and Criminal Libel Law, adding that the President had given consideration to that before signing the repeal.

He appreciated all members of SLAJ together with their former leaders for their efforts towards improving the media landscape in the country.

A plaque in appreciation and honour of the Minister of Information and Communications was presented to him and his Deputy by the SLAJ executive for their exemplary roles in the repeal process.

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Right to Access Information Commission & SLAJ School Journalists on Freedom of Information Law

By Foday Moriba Conteh

With the avowed objective to promote access to information and open data through proactive disclosure of information by public authorities, the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC) in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) on Friday 23rd October, 2020 conducted a Training of Trainers workshop for journalists on the Freedom of Information Law, an event which was held at the Family Kingdom Resort, Aberdeen in Freetown.

In his statement, the Chairman of the Right to Access Information Commission (RAIC), Dr. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw disclosed that the RAIC Act came into existence in 2013, being an Act to provide for the disclosure of information held by public authorities or by persons providing services for them and to provide for other related matters. He added that the Commission has a clear mandate to make information available to the masses by increasing the supply of open data to a possible extent.

The Chairman furthered that in a similar manner RAIC is poised to improve on data accessibility by the masses and to make them aware of what rights they have in gaining such access to information stating that it is against such a backdrop that they decided to organize such a workshop for journalists as they are very key in terms of proactive disclosure of information by public authorities.

Chairman of the Independent Media Commission, George S. Khoryama, said that the training was timely as it came in the wake of the Repeal of Part V of the Criminal Libel Law and the enactment into law of the new IMC Act 2020, adding that the IMC, as the regulator of the Media, is now more pre-occupied with the prospect of a responsible Press.

George S. Khoryama pointed out that the training of such a nature is very important in fulfilling the expectations of the new IMC Act 2020 and the Media Code of Practice.

“Until you travel that is when you could realize that media institutions in this country are poor. The media is poor financially, professionally, technically and ethically and only a training of this sort could help to mitigate the militating effects on media growth,” he opined.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Information & Communications, Hon. Boston Munda, disclosed that access to information plays a critical role and enables citizens to hold Government accountable, adding that as a Committee in Parliament their role is to overseer the Commission’s activities.

He noted that access to information is necessary to have a clear understanding about what Government is doing and holding it accountable.

He reassured of their commitment to the Commission, disclosing how they will continue to support the Commission in order for it to roll out its mandate.

Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Mamadi Gobeh Kamara, expressed appreciation to the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for playing such a tremendous role in supporting State institutions and non-state actors in the country to promote transparency, accountability and good governance.

She mentioned that to facilitate the Right to Know the Ministry of Information led the formulation and passage into law the Right to Access Information Commission Act 2013, adding that such a fundamental right plays a pivotal role in empowering citizens and giving equal opportunity to all.

She noted that as a Government they are cognizant of the reality that freedom of information is an indispensable aspect of democratic societies in which citizens are availed the right to be informed about quality decisions, actions of Government and the conduct of Government functionaries.

She encouraged journalists to use the Right to Access Information law to access credible and reliable information from public authorities.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper

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Blog Press Release

SLAJ Celebrates Repeal Of The Criminal Libel And Enactment Of The IMC Bill 2020

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Draft IMC Bill… SLAJ President Nasralla Denies Consultations With Journalists

A Commentary By Ranger

The Minister of information and Communications, Mohamed Rado Swaray, would want journalists and media stakeholders to believe that IMC and the Ministry held wide ranging consultations with journalists and media stakeholders before the draft IMC Bill which has sparked a lot of controversy and revulsion amongst journalists, Editors and media owners before the draft was crafted by the Law Officers Department.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) President Ahmed Sahid Nasralla flatly and openly denied that such discussions were ever held with the IMC on the Bill; rather, he said SLAJ was consulted on Repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act that criminalizes libel.

What came out of the discussion on Radio Democracy’s Tuesday morning program was that only two SLAJ IMC members sitting on the IMC Board were part of the consultations and apparently never gave any feedback to SLAJ as to what and what was contained in the draft IMC Bill for the Association to scrutinize and give their feedback as solicited from the membership that would have validated the draft document.

In the main, whilst Salone Times Editor, Thomas Dixon, gave glowing acknowledgement to the Head of State’s sincere commitment to provide a wide open legal and empowering operational space for journalists to ply their trade responsibly, accountably but without hindrance, there seems to be a hidden conspiracy by certain people to muzzle the Press as contained in Sections of the draft IMC Bill that Dixon succinctly pointed to as obnoxious, undemocratic, offensive and enslaving of the media’s freedom to operate as a business and to exercise its unfettered freedom of expression within the bounds of the law.

In democracies and authoritarian States alike, leaders intending on consolidating power are finding new ways to repress independent journalism, a report released very recently by Freedom House finds.

Whilst we believe in the sincerity of President Bio to rule the country and its people democratically, what we fear is that those Sections of the draft IMC Bill that highlighted as a threat to democratic freedom of the Press smirks of a new form of media repression trying to take hold in what is supposed to be an open society where the media is free to operate like any other business and to hold itself and society accountable for actions.

For example, in China, the Chinese Communist Party has rapidly expanded its influence over media production and dissemination channels abroad. Beijing influences news coverage around the world by suppressing critical viewpoints and managing important content delivery systems.

Equally so, anti-democratic leaders in fragile democracies have attempted to tame the media by deploying economic, legal, and extralegal tools to silence critical journalists and bolster friendly outlets. A lack of trust in mainstream news sources, an onslaught of disinformation, and a shortage of sustainable business models all grind down the media sector, laying the groundwork for co-optation by ill-intentioned political actors.

What is disturbing generally is that, in some of the most influential democracies in the world, populist leaders have overseen a concerted attempt to throttle the independence of the media.

While threats to global media freedom are concerning in their own right, their effect on the State of democracy is what makes them truly dangerous.

Most worrisome is whether journalists as citizens under the law can hope for the IMC to come to their aid after repeal of the libel law if their basic rights are violated.

Mind you dear readers, even the Press in the USA is under similar threat, although US legal protections for media freedom remain strong. We see President Trump’s continual vilification of the Press as seriously exacerbated an ongoing erosion of public confidence in mainstream outlets. Among other steps, the President has repeatedly threatened to strengthen libel laws, revoke the licenses of certain broadcasters and damage media owners’ other business interests.

On the other hand, we see the positive relationship between strengthening media freedoms and democratic progress in countries including Ethiopia, Malaysia, Ecuador and The Gambia.

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Blog Press Release

SLAJ Institutes Disciplinary Committee

SLAJ Institutes Disciplinary Committee

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), in a release it issued out on the 29th April 2020 and signed by the Association’s National Secretary General, Mohamed Asmieu Bah, has intimated its launching of a Disciplinary Committee Pursuant to Article 14 (3) of the SLAJ constitution which states:

“There shall also be a Disciplinary Committee of SLAJ whose function shall be to adjudicate upon matters of indiscipline and professional misconduct of individual members of SLAJ.”
The Disciplinary Committee of SLAJ comprises three members. Two of such members were drawn from within or without SLAJ.” “The SLAJ Disciplinary Committee should co-opt two additional members, comprising one from civil society and another from the floor to enhance its operations.”

The newly constituted Disciplinary Committee (SLAJ-DC) is as follows:

SLAJ:
1. Mrs. Bernadette Cole- (Chairperson)
2. Abu-Bakarr Sheriff Esq- (Secretary)
3. Lucy Ann Ganda

PUBLIC:
4. Marcella Samba Sesay
5. Batilloi Warritay

The SLAJ-DC will be supported by Regional and District Monitors as follows:

REGIONAL MONITORS
1. Ibrahim Jalloh- Northern Region
2. Samuel Haffner- Southern Region
3. James Jamil Fatorma- Eastern Region

DISTRICT MONITORS North
1. Alusine Rehme Wilson- Bombali District
2. Hassan Y. Koroma- Tonkolili District
3. Yakoya Kamara- Port Loko District
4. Foday Dumbuya- Kambia District
5. Duramanie Boima- Karene District
6. Margaret M. Mansaray- Koinadugu District
7. Sahr Paul Aruna- Falaba District

South:
1. Grace Okekearu- Bo
2. Samba Koroma- Bonthe
3. Emmanuel Koroma- Pujehun
4. Alpha Lalugba- Moyamba

East:
1. Ahmed Jusu Sheriff- Kenema
2. Mohamed Fofanah- Kono
3. Shar James- Kailahun

In mentioning the Goals/Deliverables of the Committee it was noted that:

• The SLAJ-DC shall enforce the SLAJ Code of Ethics.

• The committee shall cover all matters of discipline, professional conduct, integrity and reputation of the association.

• The Committee shall improve on SLAJ Code of Conduct to include regulations on new media (Online publishing, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other social media platforms).

The release ended by the SLAJ Executive thanking the members of the Committee for volunteering to serve and assured them of the Association’s support.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper