Sierra Leone House accused of bid to gag media

Wednesday September 12 2018

Julius Maada Bio

Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KEMO CHAM
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Sierra Leoneans have reacted angrily to the demand by Parliament for an apology from TV station for alleged negative report about the House.

Parliament Speaker Abass Bundu ordered the Africa Young Voices Media Empire (AYV) to retract and apologise for the alleged offensive its report on a land dispute.

The dispute involves Ms Veronica Kadi Sesay, a leading member of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLLP), who was accused of land grabbing.

Ms Sesay, according to sources, bought a piece of land which claimed by a third party.

AYV early last month aired interviews with all the three parties, as part of a popular weekly programme on its main TV channel: Caught on Camera.

The broadcaster

Apparently, Parliament was offended by the responses, which suggested popular anger against the lawmakers.

On Tuesday, representatives of the broadcaster appeared before a parliamentary panel chaired by the House Speaker.

Parliament Clerk Umar Paran Tarawallie, said the programme aired live provided a platform for the MP and the House as a whole to be “grossly demeaned” by callers and the other party involved in the land dispute.

The MPs were particularly offended by the fact that callers used the word ‘criminal’ in describing MPs. They say that amounted to defamation.

The lawmakers now want the broadcaster to air another programme retracting the original one and apologise for defaming Parliament.

The freedom

The move has once again heightened concerns over the freedom of expression under President Julius Maada Bio, who came to power promising to repeal the notorious Criminal Libel law, which rights groups say has for decades stifled free speech.

Many Sierra Leoneans took to social media to condemn the action by Parliament.

AYV Director of Operation Samuel Wise Bangura, who led the broadcaster’s team to the House hearing, said the allegations against them were untrue and stressed that Speaker’s order was based on an uninformed point of view.

Mr Bangura said the Speaker did not even watch the said programme and that he was only briefed about its content.

“This is sad for our democracy, a Speaker threatening a journalist that he will not hesitate to incarcerate him if he fails to adhere to his orders, which are uninformed,” said the journalist.

Alleged corruption

It is the second attempt by the new government to stifle free speech, according to rights campaigners. Last month, there were similar concerns after the police warned against publicly speaking against the government’s policies.

Parliament, in particular, has come under sustained criticism for its tendency to gag free speech when its comes to its operations.

In 2015, MPs infamously ordered the press to refrain from reporting on alleged corruption in the management of funds meant to fight the deadly Ebola virus epidemic.

Last year, a UK-based accountability campaigner was detained after a damning report by his organisation exposed alleged corruption among MPs.

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