Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Sierra Leone's constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but the unreformed legal sector and government actions restrict this right in practice. The 1965 Public Order Act criminalizes libel and holds accountable not only journalists, but vendors, printers, and publishers as well. In October, Paul Kamara, editor and publisher of the independent newspaper For di People, was found guilty of two counts of seditious libel and sentenced to two concurrent two-year prison sentences as the result of a 2003 article linking the president to corruption. Press freedom organizations pressed President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to use the opportunity to make a public show of support for freedom of expression in the country, pardon Kamara, and move to decriminalize defamation. Nonetheless, Kamara, who has appealed the sentence, remained in jail. The judge also recommended a six-month ban on For di People. Even though the Independent Media Commission (IMC) has yet to rule on the recommendation, the newspaper stopped publishing for several weeks, fearing more legal action. In late October, following Kamara's imprisonment, the justice minister threatened to jail the editor of the newspaper The Pool for publishing a story that had criticized the justice minister.
Targeting uncooperative reporters with libel laws and using the judicial powers of the courts to ambush correspondents seem to have become a growing regime strategy, while investigative reporting into high-level corruption often leads to harassment and violence against journalists perpetrated by both government and security forces and by criminal groups. In July, the speaker of the parliament banned the privately owned newspaper Standard Times from covering parliamentary activities for one month and ordered the newspaper's editor to retract a story that criticized the government and publish an apology. Prior to the ban, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the editor and author of the article were summoned to the parliament, where they refused to disclose their source for the article. In January, police raided the offices of the independent daily Awoko and assaulted and threatened journalists who had reported on an accident involving a police vehicle. On two separate occasions in August an armed youth group attacked the station manager and a reporter from the private community radio station Citizen FM. According to MFWA, the attacks were in response to a Citizen FM program that criticized the local police station. In late November, a group of men assaulted journalist Mohamed Amara Josiah of the Standard Times, leaving him in a coma.
Sierra Leone's diverse and lively media, particularly the growing print press, have been a strong voice against corruption; however, serious ethical problems continue to pose challenges for the profession. The media are highly politicized, and there is widespread corruption among journalists. Radio remains the medium of choice for most Sierra Leoneans, who for economic reasons have limited access to television and newspapers. Among the developments in the media sector in 2004 was the resolution of the three-year struggle to review the licensing regime imposed by the IMC; the annual license fee was lowered this year. Critics of the Kabbah administration had frequently accused it of manipulating the IMC regulatory mechanism to secure compliance and pronounce punishments against the growing rank of independent private and community broadcasters.