Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today about a worsening of press freedom in Sierra Leone after the closure of an independent newspaper and refusal to give a broadcasting licence to a privately-owned radio station.
"These actions were taken by the Independent Media Commission (IMC), yet this is the body supposed to be protecting freedom of information, not restricting it," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to information minister Septimus Kaikai. "The problems is, the IMC is not independent at all and makes decisions in the interests of the government."
He called on the minister to take all necessary steps to see that licences were granted to all privately-owned stations that requested one and to ensure that the closed newspaper, African Champion, was able to reopen as soon as possible.
The newspaper, a privately-owned daily, was ordered to close down indefinitely on 31 August by the country’s High Court. Its managing editor, Mohamed D. Koroma, was banned from any "editorial function" in any newspaper in the country.
In March, the IMC had already ordered the paper to close for two months. Koroma responded that he would challenge the legality of the ban and continue bringing out the paper. He was criticised for having published an article headed "Kabbah stinks in dubious deal again," in which he pointed to the corruption of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s son, protected by his father.
At the end of August, the IMC refused an operating licence to West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) for reasons of "national security" and "public safety." The station wanted to broadcast on short-wave nationwide and in other countries of the Mano River Union (Liberia and Guinea). The IMC said Sierra Leone had been destabilised in the past by groups based in these two countries.