The Sierra Leone Bar Association (hereinafter referred to as “SLBA”) like the rest of the public is aware of recent events surrounding the Independent Media Commission’s (hereinafter referred to as “IMC”) letter dated 4th July 2014 addressed to the ‘Station Manager, New Citizen Radio’ on its decision to suspend Broadcasting of Monologue Programme on Citizen Radio for 60 days. The SLBA has refrained from commenting on the issue before now as it was only prudent that we hear from all interested parties in the matter before making a statement. We had previously heard from the presenter of the Monologue Programme David Tam Baryoh as well as from the Minister of Information Hon. Alpha Kanu representing the Government of Sierra Leone. Now that IMC has made publications in certain media outlets explaining their side of the story the SLBA believes that this is the appropriate time to make a statement. We take note of IMC’s letter to Citizen Radio wherein it states ‘I am further directed to convey to you the Cabinet conclusion C.P. (2014) at its meeting on 21st May 2014 that “the Monologue Programme on Citizen Radio be issued a sixty-day suspension order” as from 12 O’clock today.’
The IMC is a creation of statute with powers to regulate the media landscape in this country. Section 3 of the Independent Media Commission Act (Act No.12) 2000 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”) as amended guarantees the IMC’s independence. Section 21 of the Act lays down procedures for the suspension or cancellation of a radio broadcasting licence which the Commission can employ to ensure adherence with the conditions of any given licence. Section 8(a) of the Act gives IMC the responsibility to promote a pluralistic and free media landscape. Section 8(d) of the Act provides for IMC to ‘protect the interest of the public against exploitation or abuse by media institutions’. Section 36 of the Act also provides for complaints to be made against the media.
Section 25 of the 1991 Constitution protects freedom of expression and the press which the SLBA upholds and jealously guards. While we believe that the Commission should review all complaints from individuals as well as entities (including cabinet) in respect of media abuse, SLBA is concerned about the perception of interference that may arise when a powerful entity like cabinet prescribes the punishment that it desires.
We are extremely concerned about IMC’s somewhat swift implementation of cabinet’s prescription and call on IMC to maintain its integrity and to fulfil its mandate at all times irrespective of the situation. We appreciate the fact that IMC is not fully constituted as provided by the Act and that this may affect their output. We therefore urge Government to ensure that the IMC is fully constituted within the shortest possible time.
We remain conscious of our social obligation to protect the rule of law and to give advice to bear on contemporary national issues when matters of legal significance come to bear.