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Decriminalising press offences

Nov 12, 2012, 9:22 AM

We sincerely welcome the announcement by Senegalese President Macky Sall that his government will decriminalize all press offences in Senegal.

Such an initiative would, no doubt, boost the relationship between Government and the press in that country.

President Sall, who moderated the final session of the fifth African Media Leaders Forum, which wrapped up in Dakar on Friday, said  he was finally convinced of the merits of a law decriminalizing press offences.

He also announced that “media houses in Senegal will no longer pay taxes and will receive US$1 million subvention annually”.

We strongly believe that there is an absolute necessity for dialogue between government and the press everywhere.

On the home front, we would like to urge our own government to follow this good example.

There are two pieces of legislation that journalists find abominable in this country. They are the Criminal (Amendment) Act 2004 and the Newspaper Registration (Amendment) Act 2004. We wish both laws would be repealed.

While the Criminal (Amendment) Act 2004 criminalizes defamation, stipulating a jail term or an exorbitant fine for an erring journalist, the Newspaper Registration (Amendment) Act 2004 increases newspaper registration fivefold, from D100, 000 to D500, 000.

To us, journalists should not be sent to jail for press offences because they are not criminals. The laws of libel and defamation are already in our statute books to deal with journalists who go against our professional code of conduct.

In other parts of the continent and the world, as a whole, it is the journalists union that is vested with the authority of reprimanding journalists who are guilty of professional misconduct.

In a sense, both laws are out of date because the world is now becoming more accepting of press freedom. Countries around the world are working towards decriminalising press offences, as they have recognized the media as catalyst for progress in every way. 

It is to the advantage of this country to emulate the example of these other countries to make press freedom a reality.

If Senegal, which is our next door neighbour, with a total of 15 daily newspapers, six weeklies, 12 TV stations and 200 FM radios can take such a major step, we see no reason why our government cannot do the same.

One thing that is very clear is that we no longer live in the Middle Ages when intolerance was the norm.

We now live in the age of freedom and mutual interdependence when ideas are confronted by ideas, not by coercion or intimidation!

When the relationship works well, both the media and the government would gain. When it does not work well, both have something to lose. It’s better to have a win-win arrangement.

“The free press is the mother of all our liberties and of our progress under liberty”
Adlai E. Stevenson