Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 18
Political Influences: 20
Economic Pressures: 20
Total Score: 58

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 43
Religious Groups: Muslim (60 percent), indigenous beliefs (30 percent), Christian (10 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Temne (30 percent), Mende (30 percent), other tribes (30 percent), Creole (10 percent)
Capital: Freetown

Status change explanation: Sierra Leone's status improved from Not Free to Partly Free, reflecting a continued improvement in the ability of media outlets to report freely since the end of the civil conflict in January 2002.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed under the constitution, but the government sometimes restricts this right in practice. The 1965 Public Order Act makes libel a criminal offense not only for journalists and editors, but for newspaper vendors, printers, and publishers as well. In October, the government used this act to prosecute For Di People editor Paul Kamara and the owner and two employees of the printing press used to print the daily newspaper in response to an article criticizing the country's president. Earlier in the year, Kamara had completed a six-month prison sentence from a separate 2002 criminal libel conviction. In November police raided the offices of For Di People and confiscated equipment to pay civil damages awarded in connection with the 2002 case. The Independent Media Commission (IMC) is reportedly subject to government influence. The IMC did not suspend any private newspapers in 2003 as it had in 2002, and thus far has not followed through on threats to close radio stations that did not pay a high licensing fee instituted in 2002. Several dozen newspapers are published in the capital, including many that are privately owned and critical of the government. Radio, primarily state owned but with a growing number of private stations, is the most popularly accessible media source given the country's high illiteracy rate. Overall standards of journalism are low; media reports often reflect the political bias of the outlet's ownership. Corruption in the profession is reportedly endemic, with many journalists receiving payments to influence their coverage of issues.

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