13 September 2002
Media commission curbs press freedom
(RSF/IFEX) - On 12 September 2002, RSF expressed concern over a decline in press freedom in Sierra Leone after the country's media commission ordered the shutting down of an independent newspaper and denied a broadcasting licence to a privately-owned radio station.
"These actions were taken by the Independent Media Commission [IMC], yet this group is supposed to be protecting freedom of information, not restricting it," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard in a letter to Information Minister Septimus Kaikai. "The problem is that the IMC is not at all independent and makes decisions in the interest of the government."
He called on the minister to take all necessary steps to ensure that licences are granted to all privately-owned stations that have requested one and that the newspaper, "African Champion", be able to reopen as soon as possible.
The newspaper, a privately-owned daily, was ordered to close down indefinitely on 31 August by the country's High Court. Its managing editor, Mohamed D. Koroma, was banned from any "editorial function" in any newspaper in the country.
In March, the IMC had already ordered the newspaper to close for two months. Koroma said he would challenge the legality of the two-month ban and continue publishing the paper. He was reproached for having published an article entitled "Kabbah plunges into dubious deal again", in which it denounced President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's corrupt son. The article alleged that the son was being protected by his father (see IFEX alert of 21 March 2002).
At the end of August, the IMC refused to give an operating licence to West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) for reasons of "national security" and "public safety." The station wanted to broadcast on short-wave radio nationwide and in other countries of the Mano River Union (Liberia and Guinea). The IMC said Sierra Leone had been destabilised in the past by groups based in these two countries.
For further information, contact Jean-François Julliard at RSF, rue Geoffroy Marie, Paris 75009, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 84, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Internet: http://www.rsf.fr