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REGIONS:

MEDIA BILL AND ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS CAUSING CONCERN

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and ARTICLE 19 are alarmed by a contentious new media bill which is being tabled in Sierra Leone. ARTICLE 19 reports that the "Independent Media Commission Bill No. 99 of 1999" imposes statutory regulation on the print media which will create serious freedom of expression issues, outweighing any potential benefits. A media council has been proposed which will be able to suspend or revoke media licenses as well as hand out large fines. The legislation suggests that a three member committee will be appointed by the president and will review complaints against journalists. The bill would also grant new powers to the Ministry of Information, allowing it the authority to approve or revoke registration of newspapers for publication. According to a report received by CJFE from the International League for Human Rights in New York, "the media bill does not proscribe existing restrictive laws such as the 1964 criminal libel law."

The situation in Sierra Leone is worsening and members of the media have been threatened and attacked in Freetown, according to recent reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters sans frontières (RSF). Major Anthony, a soldier from ECOMOG, the West African Peacekeeping Force, threatened Jonathan Leigh, the managing editor of the "Independent Observer" on 20 August. Sources at CPJ quote Anthony as saying "if you get into ECOMOG's net again, you won't come out alive." Leigh had written an apparently satirical article which accused ECOMOG soldiers of "being inefficient against thieves" and that they "preferred the company of prostitutes to ensuring the security of the city." RSF and CPJ state that Paul Kamara, editor of "For Di People" was attacked by three members of the Revolutionary Union Front (RUF) on the same day. The RUF members had allegedly been offended by a 16 August article which stated that "they had demanded money from the government for staying in Freetown, and that they wasted money."

According to CPJ, "there have been several other reports of harassment and intimidation of the press by members of both the RUF and the former ruling junta of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), sometimes in the presence of ECOMOG officers."


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