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Positive new media laws welcomed

Guinea's military leader, Gen. Sékouba Konaté, has enshrined press freedom in the country's new constitution. He has reformed media laws to protect journalists from jail sentences and ensure the freedom to create independent newspapers, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and ARTICLE 19. Passed on 22 June, the new legislation has come into place at a historic time: the first free presidential elections in 52 years.

A transitional commission, formed by seven journalists, drafted the two laws in April and May after consulting with media executives, educators and international experts.

The first law decriminalises press offences and defines defamation with much more precision, as opposed to broad terms that could cast a wide net to prosecute journalists. It still has a provision for heavy fines against journalists convicted of press offences, but no prison sentences. It also guarantees the freedom to create newspapers.

A second law calls for the creation of a media regulatory body with five of the 11 members selected by media organisations - instead of being appointed by the country's president, as in the past.

"We welcome the fact that the transitional government, in coordination with journalists, has scrapped outmoded and repressive laws. The progress that these new laws represent will now undergo the test of implementation," said RSF.

Guinea made headlines worldwide last September after a brutal massacre of opposition demonstrators and violence against journalists. ARTICLE 19 released a report this week, "Guinea: Journalists are the Forgotten Victims of Violence," showing the findings of a mission undertaken after the massacre, when more than 150 people were killed, and women and girls raped, at a peaceful demonstration against a presidential bid by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. The report looks at intimidation and violence against journalists at the time. It also applauds the new media laws.

In addition, the report makes several recommendations to the soon-to-be-elected new government. "Offenses of libel against the Head of State, slander and false report should not be part of a modern law. Guinean authorities should take the opportunity provided by the democratic transition to repeal all the provisions which unduly limit media freedom."

Media have been free to cover the first round of presidential elections, which took place on 27 June, without any problems, reports RSF.

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