Sierra Leone | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

59

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

22

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

18

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression in Sierra Leone, but enjoyment of this right in practice is illusory. The 1965 Public Order Act criminalizes libel and holds accountable not only journalists, but vendors, printers, and publishers. By year's end, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had pledged his support for the decriminalization of libel, but no official legislation has yet been passed, and the government continues to implement these laws to intimidate investigative journalists. In May, the managing editor and a reporter with The Trumpet weekly were jailed and charged with seditious libel, but were acquitted the following month. Targeting uncooperative reporters through laws and using the judicial power of the courts to ambush correspondents has been a growing strategy of the government in recent years, and 2005 was no exception. However, in November, Paul Kamara, founder and editor of For di People, was released from prison after serving 14 months of a 2-year sentence for seditious libel concerning a published piece linking the president with corruption. An appellate court overturned the original sentence and concluded that Kamara's actions did not amount to sedition.

Journalists who persist in investigating high-level corruption often become victims of violence and harassment. In May, Harry Yansaneh, acting editor of the independent newspaper For di People, was the victim of a violent attack allegedly ordered by Fatmata Komeh, a ruling party member of Parliament; Yansaneh died of complications from the attack two months later. In August, Komeh and her accomplices were arrested on charges of manslaughter but were released on bail only a few days later. The police investigation has since refused to press further charges. Other incidents of government intimidation of the media were widespread, including the detaining of newspaper editors and reporters for the publication of articles criticizing the president.

Despite such extensive media harassments, newspapers openly and routinely criticize the government, its officials, opposition political parties, and former rebel forces. The diverse and lively media, particularly the growing print press, have been a strong voice against corruption. Nonetheless, poor journalistic skills, insufficient resources, and a lack of professional ethics all pose enduring problems for the quality of the press. More than 25 newspapers, catering to a wide spectrum of interests and political opinions, were published in 2005. Most of these were privately owned, but several were affiliated with political parties. Consequently, the media are highly politicized, and there is widespread corruption among journalists. Several government and private radio stations, as well as international stations like the United Nations Radio, all provide coverage of domestic news and political commentary. The radio remains the medium of choice for most Sierra Leoneans, who for economic reasons have limited access to television, newspapers, and the internet. Less than 0.5 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2005, though the government did not place any explicit restrictions on internet use.