MONROVIA – Two key documents were in November last year turned over to the Liberian media through the Press Union of Liberia. The documents, “The Media Self-Regulation on Personal Data Privacy and Protection” and a draft standalone legislation on personal data privacy and protection, were turned over to the Press Union of Liberia for the media by the European Union Delegation to Liberia, through its head of the political and economic governance section, Mr. Jyrki Torni.
Outgoing PUL president Charles Coffey received the documents.
By Rita Jlogbe Doue, Contributing Writer
Both documents were developed by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Publishers Association of Liberia (PAL), with technical support from three Liberian lawyers and access to information practitioners. Atty. Lamii Kpargoi, Atty. Sarnyenneh Dickson and Atty. Alphonsus Zeon compiled the documents after months of thorough research and series of stakeholder engagements. They conducted desk research to understand relationships, gaps, and potentials for synchronizing existing laws, policies, and regulations on the generation, storing, usage and protection of personal data.
These two documents are among key milestones of the Liberia Media Initiative (LMI) – a self-regulating regime on personal data privacy and a draft law that would be a beginning of national conversations around the topic of protection of personal data.
At least four Editors’ Forums were held in Montserrado, Nimba and Grand Bassa counties to generate thoughts and knowledge that went into the production of these documents. The last two forums saw the full validation and adoption of the Media Self-Regulation on September 28, 2022, by Liberian journalists in Sanniquillie, Nimba County, at the PUL 58th anniversary celebration, which also coincided with the International Right to Know Day.
The LMI, which formally came to an end in November 2022, was co-financed by the European Union, implemented by Internews alongside five Liberian institutions, including the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), Local Voices Liberia Media Network (LVL), Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Publishers Association of Liberia (PAL) and the Independent Information Commission (IIC) – the statutory body responsible to manage access to public information in Liberia.
Internews project director for LMI, Samuka V. Konneh, describes the documents as a ‘work of excellence that would safeguard Liberian journalists in professionally handling personal data in their reportage.”
Speaking at LMI’s closeout event at the Royal Grand Hotel on 16th November when he turned over the documents, Torni says the LMI project was a favorite project because “it revolves around what the European Union calls ‘access to information.’
“Imagine a society where people do not have free access to information and where people do not have right to the protection of their personal data. How do they participate in their country’s decision-making process if they do not have access to credible information? The European Union is happy to be associated with this process. (unsynch)”
Here is an excerpt from the media self-regulation:
“Journalists should take into consideration a few things when making the judgement call on whether something is in the public interest or not. Things to consider should include: Is a misuse of public office involved? Is there an improper use of public money involved? Is there a need to protect public health, safety, and environment? Does the issue entail the protection of national security? Has a crime been committed? Does the issue involve social behavior? Is it related to national politics?
“There is nothing wrong with the media publishing personal information when it serves a greater value and is used to discuss a matter in the public interest. Answering the above questions will go a long way in helping journalists make the decision on what constitutes a private right that must be protected from publication and whether the public’s right to know the information in question overrides the individual interest in the matter.”
Outgoing PUL president, Coffey, Jr., expressed great excitement over the documents. “These truly are milestones for improving the way we practice journalism in Liberia. These will go a long way and we’re happy that the PUL was part of this process.”
Liberia’s Info Minister a willing Ambassador
Liberia’s information minister, Ledgerhood Julius Rennie, has volunteered himself to the PUL and the Liberian media in pushing for the passage of the draft standalone legislation on personal data privacy and protection.
“I am happy we’re beginning to discuss this subject. How much can we put out there as media people? What are we entitled to – to report or not to report? If a woman goes to the police to report that she’s been raped, what level of protection does she have? How much does our law protect the data that is available, example, medical data? From time to time, what we publish, are they covered by law? People need to be protected.
“I haven’t seen the draft of the law, but I am sure, given the quality of work and the individuals that are associated with it, we can lend political support to ensure that at the level of the legislature, that the draft legislation is received, looked into, and passed into law,” Min. Rennie says.
Both the draft legislation and media self-regulation are in addition to a comprehensive desk review report submitted earlier in May 2022 by the consulting lawyers. Here are few excerpts from that report.
“… Currently, Liberia has no personal or general data protection law. The country also has no law that defines what personal data is though it is a signatory to the ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Personal Data Protection.
… “Different aspects of existing laws provide for the protection of privacy, but hardly anything on protection of personal data collected of individuals. The current laws hardly treat personal information as the property of the individual from which the information was gathered. There does not even exist a comprehensive definition of privacy that applies to all situations, while the Liberian Constitution prohibits the violation of privacy and generally prohibits the interference with someone’s privacy of their home, family, or correspondence.”