Voinjama, Lofa County – The President of the Press Union of Liberia says irrespective of the demand for a free press in Liberia and most other parts of the world, there are credible reports and accounts of media misconduct.
Addressing this year’s observance of World Press Freedom Day in Voinjama, Lofa County, Mr. K. Abdullai Kamara, averred that the PUL does not take kindly to misconduct and we continue setting up appropriate mechanisms to address them. “We have a Grievance & Ethics Committee which reviews whatever complaints of misconduct and normally take punitive measures. Within the coming weeks, we will be recruiting a special staff to directly monitor claims of misconduct and summarize them for the Committee. We recognize that the members of the committee have other responsibilities and may often not be available as a complaint comes in. However this challenge, the Press Union of Liberia is determined to name and shame anyone who opts not to be professional in their journalism.” Mr. Kamara cautioned the media ahead of the upcoming 2017 elections that there will be increased media participation. “But for once, the involvement of media must be for the greater good of Liberia. We must use our pens and microphone to tell the story in a way that Liberia benefits. We must report the issues around the elections such that we do not scare people away. Our reportage must encourage greater citizen participation, again in a more positive way. All involved in the process must be heard, all issues must be brought forward. This is an obligation of the media – and we must take it from here!” Recounting Challenges Mr. Kamara said irrespective of the union’s demands for a civil recourse to media infractions, he challenged that anything that appears on any media platform ought to be the truth. “Anything that appears in media ought to represent the greater good of society, make efforts towards seeking justice and stand tall for peace. Anything otherwise cannot be the journalism for all that we reference when we recite the Journalism Creed. Make no mistake, this note is not meant to limit your freedom to disagree, pursue the truth and expose illegality. We only owe an obligation to society to provide them the truth that should guide them in making useful decisions in their day to day life.” The PUL President declared that the celebration was not only meant to recount the challenges media face in the discharge of our duties, but also to recognize progress and in the same vein lay claim to the opportunities that are available to make media a lot more relevant. Said Kamara: “It is no gain saying the media is challenged. But it is also no gainsaying that journalists, democracy activists and the larger Liberian populace are resolved that to move forward they must demand their freedom and responsibly and professionally celebrate it. So it is with media in Liberia.” The theme for Liberia this year has been modified from “Promoting a Free Press to Ensure Sustainable Development in Liberia.” In line with this modification, the PUL boss said reporters visited various locations within the county to report poverty, development, investment and the provision of social services. “As a consequence of these reports, the county will be highlighted in the media, drawing the attention of national government and the development community to outstanding issues.” This year’s celebration in Lofa was marred by controversy with some segment in the media disapproving of the PUL’s decision to tap Vice President Joseph Boakai as this year’s guest speaker. Diversity and Variance of Opinions President Kamara explained: “Irrespective of the challenges we put forth at the time, we appreciate that the Vice President, from such a high standing in government would still muster the courage to attend an event of the Press Union of Liberia, especially when it is very clear that we will be discussing these issues. The diversity and variance of opinions and thoughts are important attributes of democracy, and any government that aspires to these virtues must protect it. The PUL boss recalled that across the last months, media in Liberia was alarmed by deliberate government comments that threatened the freedom we have variously attempted to celebrate. “When the (now former) Attorney indicated that people (journalists) will be charged for spreading lies, we are urgently reminded of the darker days in the 1980s when the infamous decree 88A made the rounds. When Simeon Freeman was threatened with arrest and Vandalark Patricks actually arrested for sedition, the alarm was higher. We cannot afford to lose all that have been gained. While we may not be very clear why the Justice Minister resigned, we nonetheless feel that the posture he took then does not augur well for democracy, and we urge the government to make a clearer position on this.” In adopting this year’s theme, Mr. Kamara said the union is guided by the fact that press freedom and the right to information have a direct relevance to achieving these goals, and can also be seen as implicit goals themselves. “The SDGs will set the agenda for many policy decisions in coming years, impact on resource mobilization and flows, and highlight the common interest in humanity in a durable process of improving the lives of every person.” Added Kamara: “The SDGs recognize that sustainable development includes “public access to information and fundamental freedoms.” As a SDG target, these objectives are a sub-part of a wider goal (number 16) to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” It is clear that public access to information and fundamental freedoms are not only an end in themselves, but also an important means to Goal 16 as a whole, and to the rest of the SDG goals – such as those on gender equality and addressing climate change.” GoL Urged to Remain Engaged Regarding the issue of speech, the PUL boss said speech must be treated as a civil activity, and anyone whether from government or the private sector who feels slighted by speech is justified in seeking civil recourse. The PUL boss then called on the government to remain engaged with the PUL and media partners in ensuring the passage of laws that will decriminalize speech offenses. “Notwithstanding this right”, the PUL boss said the organization remains convinced that taking actions to silence media because they are unduly critical of functions and roles in public affairs weakens the capacity of media to report the issues that could contribute to conflict and bad governance. In furtherance of this, Mr. Kamara announced that the PUL, in partnership with INTERNEWS and the support of the USAID will be organizing a media law conference on 10th and 11th May. “It is our conviction that this conference will add upon the engagements of 2004 that led to the passage in 2010 of the Freedom of Information Law. We still believe that a number of laws affecting the media, including Government support for community radio stations, transforming the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System into a public service broadcaster; and the development of an independent broadcast regulator will go a long way into developing the media landscape and making democracy a better call in Liberia.” Elsewhere in Brussels, in the framework of the World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, journalists unions across the world have demanded that “there must be no hiding place for those who attack journalists or undermine media freedom”. Launching a major new survey of press freedom violations in over 20 countries around the world, International Federation of Journalists President Jim Boumelha also pledged an ”unwavering commitment to pursue all those who intimidate, threaten or attack our colleagues, our rights and our freedoms”. The survey – published on World Press Freedom Day by the IFJ which represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries – exposes the state of abuses of media freedom and journalists’ rights in more than 20 countries. Among the key findings are: Most respondents report a worsening of the state of media freedom in their countries Self-censorship is widespread as a result of impunity, physical attacks and intimidation of journalists. In many countries laws enshrining the right to collective bargaining are being ignored or undermined by employers and governments. Mobilising and organising within unions fostered positive change in journalism and allowed for concrete steps harnessing press freedom across the world. Safety of journalists stands as a top priority for all respondents. Chilling stories of press freedom abuses were widespread. In Peru, impunity in cases involving the killing of journalists remains absolute – 61 cases remain unresolved since 1983. In Greece, the economic crisis and social protests had led to a growing number of physical and political attacks on journalists. In Malawi, media had been banned from covering presidential functions as part of a clampdown on independent voices. In Congo-Brazzaville, the local union reported widespread attacks by the security forces against journalists and foreign correspondents being attacked and having their equipment damaged after interviewing an opposition leader during the Presidential elections in March 2016. But unions also reported a growing number of successes as a result of their campaigns and activity to resist attacks on media freedom: In Belgium, the Association Générale des Journalistes Professionels de Belgique (AGJPB/AVBB) reported an emphatic victory against censorship and for the right to inform after successfully overturning a court injunction banning an article about the activities of a leading pharmaceutical firm. In Somalia the killers of journalist Hindiyo Haji Mohamed were arrested following union campaigns against impunity. In Finland union pressure forced the authorities to prosecute those alleged to have made threats against journalists. In Portugal, the Sindicato dos Jornalistas was successful in overturning restrictive guidelines for election coverage following a legal challenge. In Costa Rica the union helped successfully fight slander and defamation cases against 3 journalists at La Nacion. In Spain, photojournalists stood together to provide evidence which allowed the prosecution of a police officer charged with attacking journalist Xavier Gomez. In Uganda, the journalists union backed a successful constitutional challenge to the country’s Parliamentary leadership after more than 50 journalists were banned from covering proceedings. In the UK, the union secured a public apology from the police after they stopped and searched nine journalists covering a public order event. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the killer of journalist Soleil Balanga was convicted. In Burkina Faso media acted against the decision of the authorities to ban all live programmes as an attempt to suppress criticism of the government forcing its repeal. IFJ President Jim Boumelha said: “This survey exposes a shocking toll of violations of media freedom and a woeful lack of willingness on the part of too many governments and authorities to act to defend journalists. But as it also shows journalists’ unions are ensuring there can be no hiding place for those who attack journalists or undermine media freedom. Whether in print or on the airwaves, in courts or international bodies, on the streets and in the workplaces journalists unions are standing up against the threats to media freedom.”