''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol XI No 3

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Saturday July 12, 2014 - An intolerant, corrupt and autocratic set-up passing for a government shows its true colours as a radio programme is ordered off air. How the IMC lost the plot as it sells its so-called independence to an undemocratic "cabinet".The hapless and grovelling IMC head Rod Mac-Johnson. Refused to resign over his disgraceful handling of the Monologue programme.Monologue radio programme presenter David Tam Baryoh.

The smoke and mirrors occupant of State House, aka the rat has struck again - this time using a so-called cabinet directive to muzzle what it believes are utterances in a radio programme - "Monologue". Just to be certain that what we have heard is not of the stuff of fiction, we visited the website of the IMC, the Independent Media Commission and found this - indicating what the IMC is there to do in the affairs of news management and the ethics associated thereof  - "Promoting a free and pluralistic media throughout Sierra Leone and ensuring that media institutions achieve the highest level of efficiency in the provision of media services."

Let's start from the beginning and with this account on the pages of the Politico online news outlet which in part states - Sierra Leone’s Independent Media Commission (IMC) has slammed a two-month ban on what is arguably the country’s most widely-listened-to radio programme, MONOLOGUE. It followed a cabinet instruction, contained in a letter Politico has seen, instructing the media regulator to axe off the programme temporarily.

The Chairman of the IMC, Rod Mac-Johnson confirms the weekly programme, which airs on five radio stations across the country, has been banned for sixty days. In a letter dated 4 July and addressed to the manager of the host radio station of the programme, Citizen radio, IMC says the programme has been taken off air because it aired a programme whose content was unsubstantiated. The letter reads in part thus:

“I am further directed to convey to you the cabinet conclusion C.P. (2014) at the meeting on 21st May 2014 that ‘the Monologue Programme on Citizen Radio be issued a sixty-day suspension order’ as from 12 O’ clock today”. The letter does not explain exactly what the programme did do wrong but the IMC Chairman says “the commission cannot disobey a cabinet directive”.

He says MONOLOGUE broadcast unsubstantiated things about the military and the defence minister, bordering on “the security of the state”. He says the presenter of the programme, David Tam-Baryoh was summoned to the commission where he admitted to wrongdoing and apologised. But Tam-Baryoh denies this account saying the IMC absolved him of any wrongdoing after looking into the complaint.

This is what was first reported by the authoritative Politico which at first reading would indicate that something was not quite right. That Politico could have missed some details. That the IMC could not have subjected itself to the whims and caprices of a so-called cabinet which is a part of the Executive arm of government headed by the smoke and mirrors occupant of State House known as the rat.

And then came a somewhat crass explanation from the IMC - a body that is supposed to be manned by media professionals who know their a from their e and who would be fiercely protective of their independence. The Global Times online new outlet had this from the hapless IMC on its website - it was a rambling, confusing and out of depth justification for the suspension of the programme on the say-so of a so-called cabinet. Headlined IMC Press Release: Position Statement On The Suspension Of “Monologue Programme” On Citizen FM Radio - the IMC stated in part -

Presenter Baryoh turned up at about 3:30p.m and at a meeting with the Chairman, (Rod Mac-Johnson) and (Commissioners Mohamed Samoura and Sahr Mbayo) the matter was presented to him which inter alia was that “the body guards of Defence Minister, Pallo Conteh were involved in a road accident which resulted in the death of two soldiers”

In the said programme, the presenter, Dr. David Tam-Baryoh also described other vehicles that were in the Minister’s convoy as old and worn-out while the Minister spotted a new jeep.” “They led those guys to their death.

The Commission said it took exception to the utterances made on the programme with particular reference to the statement “nobody would convince me that the Defence Minister was not responsible for the death of the two soldiers.”

Dr. Tam-Baryoh accepted that he was wrong to have made such statement regarding the death of the two soldiers to the Defence Minister. He apologised to the Commission and assured the members that he will not air any further comment in subsequent programmes. He said he appreciated the Commission for pointing out the ethical lapses to him. Cognisance of the provision of the IMC Act which states that for the suspension of any media institution, that institution should be warned three consecutive times before any suspension is effected.Former head of Anti Corruption Commission Abdul Tejan-Cole says the IMC and the Cabinet were wrong.

Sub-section Section 21 (2) states:

“No suspension or cancellation shall be made under sub section

(1) unless the Commission has given written notice to the media institution concerned specifying the conditions of the licence which have not been complied with given directives for the rectification of the breach and the action proposed to be taken by the Commission in the event of non-compliance with the notice.”

Section 21 (3) subject to subsection (2)

“the Commission shall not suspend or cancel a licence unless that media instituion has been given an opportunity to comply with the directions of the Commission and to rectify the breach.”

Mindful of the provisions of the IMC Act and Code of Practice, the Commission could not have suspended the “Monologue” Programme because a fully constituted Board should have approved that type of decision on the recommendations of the Monitoring Unit and the Complaints Committee.

The Commission also took into consideration that cabinet is the highest decision-making body and was constrained to question its decision as stated in the cabinet conclusion of 21st May, 2014 and the Commission was advised to adhere by its legal retainer.

As of now there are only the Chairman and two Commissioners out of eleven Commissioners who are in post and could not form a quorum to take such decision as the Act stipulates.

This is the most disastrous and most disgraceful aspect of it all.

The IMC has stated what was needed to suspend a programme/publication and yet went above its remit and like a boot-licking and not fit for purpose outfit allowed itself to be manipulated by the Executive even though the law setting up the IMC states that it is an independent body that is answerable to no one.

Read carefully just how the IMC disgraced itself on the altar of political expediency as well as the need to please the powers that be. Without a quorum, these shameless guardians of the media in Sierra Leone - just the three of them killed a programme with no regard of what this would mean to the many listeners who depended on the programme for the various views expressed - palatable as well as unpalatable.

Even as this illegal manipulation of press freedom was taking place, we were alarmed, but not surprised that not a squeak was heard from the many paid outlets of the rat with those who feed fat on his droppings burying their miserable heads in the sand of deceit and denial. They are on record as stating that under the rat - press freedom has been the best since independence.

One-time Information minister and arts writer Julius Spencer has also waded in condemning in no uncertain terms the illegal action of both cabinet and the IMC -

"I have refrained from making any comment on the issue of the suspension of David Tam Bayoh’s Monologue programme up till this point because I was hoping that the Chairman of the IMC will come to his senses and take the principled stance all media practitioners expect, but unfortunately, this has not happened.

I have decided to make a comment at this point in time because the position statement of the IMC on the issue not only exposes the ridiculous nature of what transpired, but also buttresses a point I made during the recent SLAJ convention in Makeni, which is that the IMC has over the years displayed a propensity to undermine its own integrity.

In the first place, the position statement issued by the IMC says “the commission also took into consideration that Cabinet is the highest decision making body and was constrained to question its decision as stated in the Cabinet Conclusion of 21st May 2014 and the Commission was advised to adhere by its legal retainer.”

I wonder what the basis was for such advice and who the legal retainer is that gave such advice when the IMC Act Section 3 says “except as otherwise contained in this Act or by any other law not inconsistent with the Constitution, the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority in the performance of its functions.”

The IMC and its legal retainer as well as Cabinet needs to be reminded that no one is above the law, not Cabinet, not even the President.

Therefore Cabinet has no legal authority to give directives to the IMC.

The IMC chairman and commissioners ought to know this, so rather than falling over themselves to carry out a directive from a body to which the Commission is not answerable, they should simply have pointed out to the Minister of Information that the Commission will investigate the matter and take appropriate action.

I hold no brief for David Tam Bayoh’s Monologue programme and, in fact, there are many people who believe that the level of professionalism with which he handles some issues is at times questionable, but this is beside the point. The issue here is whether Cabinet or any individual or body has the authority to give directives to the IMC on action to be taken in respect of the activities of a media institution.

The IMC, having gone ahead and performed an illegal act, tries in its Position Statement to exonerate itself, basically saying it acted under pressure and goes ahead to demonstrate that it did not adhere to the provisions of the IMC Act in taking the action it did. To my mind, this only serves to demonstrate the incompetence of the Chairman and his Commissioners and their lack of conviction and courage."

The Global Times news outlet had been following developments with keen interest and reported the reaction of the government in the form of another rat, Alpha Kanu who also doubles as the Information minister. This was the headline on that - Suspension Of Monologue… “Cabinet Acted In Good Faith” -Alpha Kanu Says and went on -

"In an exclusive interview with the Global Times yesterday, the Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Kanu noted that the security of the state was far more important than freedom of the press. According to the Chief Government Spokesman, governments are elected to protect life and property. “As a government”, he said, “We cannot allow the security of the state to be compromised in the name of press freedom”. Social commentator, broadcaster and arts writer Julius Spencer

Minister Kanu reiterated that the decision to suspend the popular “Monologue” radio program on Citizen FM was done in the interest of national security.

Asked why he did not allow the IMC (Independent Media Commission) to handle the matter, Minister Kanu said the commission did not treat his complaint against the journalist “very seriously”. He said the decision by Cabinet, to suspend the Monologue program, was done in good faith.

“As a government, we take the security of the state very seriously… Dr. David Tam-Bayoh threatened the security of the state, by the inciteful comments he made against the Minister of Defence… He was calling on the Army to take immediate action, because, two of their colleagues had died in a road accident… He blamed the Minister and by extension the government for the accident… Why did he not wait for the Police to investigate the cause of the accident”, Minister Kanu said. He assured media practitioners that once they practice their trade with responsibility, they have nothing to fear."

This Alpha Kanu rat was the same man who took with him one OSD police officer while on a mission to neighbouring Guinea. Whatever happened has not been fully explained to Parliament or the people of how the unfortunate OSD policeman lost his life and here he is talking about state security because someone dared to bring to the fore the death of two soldiers in an accident.

This brings us to another aspect of the use of members of the armed forces as tools of politicians. The so-called Defence Minister Conteh has been criticised for using members of the armed forces as hired hands using his position as Defence Minister to bully the military into getting his way. What right has he to armed soldiers as bodyguards when on a tour? Where in the constitution do we have provisions for ministers to have armed bodyguards with them in a country that is not at war?

We have to remind the rat and his mob of nation wreckers that it is the Special Branch of the police that has the duty to provide bodyguards to state functionaries as well as foreign visitors within the borders of Sierra Leone. There is no need for armed soldiers or OSD personnel to have those instruments of threat and death around ministers.

The so-called Defence Minister Conteh knows he's a civilian minister of state and has no business having armed soldiers with him because we do know that while he was in the UK he could well have seen Defence ministers visiting cities, towns and hamlets without the entourage of armed escort that he so loves to show just how powerful he is - an imagined self-imposed aura of self-importance. We wonder why he does not ask for such protection when he comes to the UK to feather his nests. He would not dare because he knows that what he's doing in the country is just not right.

This is the image he uses to intimidate ordinary folks and likewise this is what emboldens those soldiers attached to him to engage in human rights violations knowing that by being attached to the Defence Minister, he would always be there to smother such cases.

The latest condemnation of the IMC and the government comes in a report on Politico in which the former head of the Anti Corruption Commission Abdul Tejan-Cole - who sees the banning of the programme as “a very sad day for media in Sierra Leone”.

Tejan-Cole, who is now the head of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), says “I did not always agree with Tam Bayoh’s views but respected his right to express them and will defend that right”.

“A simple letter emanating from cabinet, even if it is a plea, carries tremendous authority, fear, undue influence, subtle threat, whatever way you want to put it”, he told Politico, adding: “We can’t say, ‘oh it was just a recommendation’”.

The international human rights lawyer asks rhetorically: “Though not the best of comparisons, will cabinet be right in sending a message to a judge or the chief justice, or the prosecutor of a case for that matter? Does the fact that the judge is strong enough to remain independent make such executive overreach correct?”

He says the fact that the suspension was initiated by cabinet created “credibility problems and distrust for state institutions” in this case the IMC and cabinet. He says the perception such an action creates is that “the IMC is not independent of cabinet”.

Tejan-Cole says the relationship between organs of state and the people, and the way they are exercised differs from person-to-person relationships. “The government institutions have a greater degree of responsibility to the people” he maintains, adding that “while cabinet may complain, the reasons and justification ought to be convincingly fleshed out and IMC should have given thought to due process”.

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The right choice is Kevin McPhilips Travel

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