The Sierra Leone Web



3 May 2001

On this World Press Freedom Day, we remember with sorrow all those media practitioners, foreign and local, who have lost their lives or have been deliberately harmed in the course of their assignments in this country.

Unfortunately, freedom of the press has been one of the casualties of the brutal the rebel war, to the extent that Sierra Leone has been dubbed as one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. However, the restoration of peace and security will undoubtedly change that perception of this country. Collectively, all Sierra Leoneans, including the media practitioners, the government and civil society, can contribute to erasing that image by contributing to the process of peace-making, national reconciliation and justice.

It is necessary to remind ourselves that ensuring freedom of the press is not the sole prerogative of government. It is the collective responsibility of all, including members of the "Fourth Estate" itself. Freedom of the press or of expression is intertwined with other freedoms and fundamental human rights, such as the right to freedom of conscience, the right to security of the human person, the right to equal protection of the law. and respect for private and family life.

World Press Freedom Day should also serve as a reminder that under the Sierra Leone Constitution every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. Equally, every person is obligated to respect the rights and freedoms of others, including their private and family life, and the public interest.

A free press can be a powerful instrument for the promotion of peace, tolerance, economic and social development, as well as of good governance by highlighting the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people. However, freedom of the press can also be used, or misused, as a poisonous arrow to destroy and defame the character of individuals. create undue sensationalism, display distasteful images, sow the seeds of destabilization and political instability. As we have seen on the other side of our own Continent, it can also be used to perpetrate genocide.

On this World Press Freedom Day, it is worth mentioning that one of the most efficient protective shields for ensuring freedom of the press in Sierra Leone is professionalism. I would like on this occasion to commend the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) for its renewed commitment to vigorously promote the highest level of professionalism among media practitioners in this country.

Another protective shield of press freedom is the newly established Independent Media Commission. It is by no means a perfect institution. However, it does provide a firm foundation on which government, the media and the public society, in a triangular partnership, can develop, promote and uphold the principle of freedom of information in all its aspects.

I wish to assure all media practitioners and their respect audiences that I will, if necessary, personally ensure that the Media Commission remains independent, for the public good.

The observance of World Press Freedom Day 2001 should, at the same time, remind us that thousands of our people are still deprived of their right to receive information and thus benefit from the principle of freedom of the press.

Therefore, World Press Freedom Day provides media practitioners and government with an opportunity to seriously consider how we can share with others the benefits of the freedom we now have to publish newspapers and broadcast radio and television programmes.

I am thinking of the masses of our population, especially those in the rural areas, who have no access to newspapers, and limited access to radio and television. I am also thinking about people who have limited access to objective news and information that are relevant to their daily lives.

Our joint effort in closing the information and communication gap between the urban and rural areas is one of the many ways we can give practical effect to the noble principle of freedom of the press, a principle which should today and always, be protected in this country.