Sierra Leone President warns 'reckless journalists'By KEMO CHAM in Freetown | Tuesday, May 22 2012 at 18:03
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma is threatening tough measures against the media in what is a departure from his traditionally tolerant bearing.
“The honeymoon for reckless journalism is over,” he said in a statement, warning journalists and civil society activists to stay away from politics.
That has touched on the nerves of media figures.
Those who want to be politicians should do so openly and not hide behind activism," President Koroma said.
Sierra Leone’s politics is tainted by a highly divisive tribal and regional inclination.
The President’s warning coincided with the latest media tussle over tribalism.
This involved a traditional ceremony last week among one of the country’s minority ethnic groups (the Lokor), which the President attended.
Presdent Koroma seized on the occasion to declare himself “a Lokor man”.
This presidential joke would soon be twisted by the media into an embarrassing tribal-regional shape, all of which went viral in the ever sprightly media.
“I held a meeting with the Lokor people; some journalists reported that I have declared myself as a Lokor man. This is the type of journalism that is practised [in this country],” the President lamented.
“Who does not know that I am a Temni,” he added, attempting to downplay the incident.
The President's All Peoples Congress (APC) party enjoys the support of the Temni-dominated north, while the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) dominates in the mainly Mende south-eastern half.
Past political violence has been blamed on the hype this regional dimension receives in the media.
However, despite all this, the APC government boasts of its record of not jailing or harassing a single journalist, a sign of its commitment to upholding freedom of the press.
But all this could be over soon, President Koroma implied.
“We believe we have given space, but that does not mean people should be free to talk anyhow they like,” he said.
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has condemned the President’s statement.
“At a time when police have made it clear that they do not like journalists, such statements from the President can only make them think they are heeding to his call,” said SLAJ head Umaru Fofana.
While acknowledging entrenched deficiencies within the media, Mr Fofana said there were better ways to handle such matters.
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