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Liberia: Disappointment & Uproar Over Media Council’s Handling of Facia Harris’ PUL Presidency Bid

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GENDER BIAS? “If that had been our male colleagues with an inch of concern during this period even the leadership would have given them ears as done recently in the case of Webster Cassell and others in time past. This attitude must stop because females make up a significant portion of the voters’ roll and therefore that is an indication that they are a voice in the forward march of the Union.” – Siatta Scott-Johnson, Female Journalists of Liberia (FeJAL)

Monrovia – A pronouncement by the National Media Council, declaring its inability to hear elections dispute involving the candidacy of Ms. Facia Harris for the Press Union of Liberia Presidency and the poor handling of the issue by the Elections Commission, are being greeted with uproar and disappointment.

“We humbly seek the support of all members of the Union to stand in solidarity with our next course of action which we believe is in the best interest of the union and in support of the culture of respect for the rule of law, participation and stimulating healthy discussions aimed at enhancing the growth and development of our noble profession.”

Facia Harris

The Female Journalists of Liberia (FeJAL), in a statement Thursday said, it is gravely disappointed by the display of attitude exhibited by both the EC and the NMC in handling the concerns raised by aspirant Harris.

The NMC, in its November 6, 2019 clarification, acknowledged that it did extend an invitation to Ms. Harris following her prior complaint of October 26, 2019, and in a letter from the EC on November 4, 2019, it informed the NMC of its inability to appear before the council due some overwhelming electoral matters, which for us is another flimsy reason as Ms. Harris’ complaint also borders on electoral matters.

FeJAL is taking NMC to task, declaring: “If the NMC had prior notice of the EC’s absence at such crucial meeting , why did it not notify Team Harris and the concerned parties about the EC’s excuse, yet had all parties present including the legal counsel of Ms. Harris; which for us was a serious waste of time.”

With the elections planned for Saturday, November 9, 2019, FEJAL says it is deeply disappointed.

“We are using this medium to reiterate our disappointment over Ms. Harris’s calculated disqualification from the process due to an obsolete law that even the EC is finding hard to justify and as such has cleverly boycotted all mitigation processes aimed at ensuring due process for the aggrieved by their gross absence from Tuesday, November 5, 2019 meeting scheduled by the NMC.”

The umbrella organization for female journalists lamented that the disqualification of Ms. Harris has no magnitude as her current position at the Information Commission clearly spells out the Terms of Reference for the position of a Director for Outreach and Sensitization, a position she currently occupies. “FeJAL states and still maintains that as Director for Outreach and Sensitization is in no way a Public Relations Officer position, as the EC has made the public to believe because the IIC has no such position in its TOR.”

FeJAL assures Team Harris of its unwavering support in whatever EXTERNAL LEGAL REDRESS it is contemplating on in the coming days that is intended to find closure to this matter and calls on Ms. Harris not to be deterred by the last minute ostracizes shown towards her by the PUL and its EC as well as the NMC’s lackadaisical behavior in mitigating when in all earnest; it was the organizer of said called meeting.

The NMC, in a statement this week said it could not proceed with hearing the matter due to issues relating to the upcoming elections.

The NMC which was established as a national framework for the purpose of self-regulating media accountability and professional conduct in Liberia based on the scope and provisions of code of ethics for journalists in Liberia, now says that its mediation process is solely based on the voluntary consent of disputing parties hence the NMC could not hear the matter.

Patmillia Doe-Paivey, the council’s Co-chairperson said pursuant to the framework establishing the NMC, the organization’s core purpose among others is to mediate media-related disputes, keep under review and where appropriate, comment on political, legislative, commercial or other developments which may adversely affect the dissemination of information of public interest, and threaten the public’s right to know.

FEJAL countered: “For the NMC, which replaced the Grievance and Ethics Committee, now being the biggest platform for redress guarding against ethical issues from the public as well as “media-related” disputes, to provide an ill-packaged justification for not convening for its own called meeting further suggests to the Association that indeed the NMC’s action was glaringly intentional, disrespectful and grossly provocative, again being cognizant of its own Standard Operating Procedure that it cannot convene until there is a quorum.”

FEJAL itself has said that it will not hesitate to state that the action of members of the NMC to play less interest in attending that Tuesday meeting when it bordered on “media-related issues” was not only a slap in the face of Team Harris but also a lack of cordiality amongst themselves and a deliberate insolence to FeJAL as a participating auxiliary in the pending elections.

“If that had been our male colleagues with an inch of concern during this period even the leadership would have given them ears as done recently in the case of Webster Cassell and others in time past. This attitude must stop because females make up a significant portion of the voters’ roll and therefore that is an indication that they are a voice in the forward march of the Union,” President Siatta Scott-Johnson decried.

Meanwhile, FeJAL assures Team Harris of its unwavering support in whatever EXTERNAL LEGAL REDRESS it is contemplating on in the coming days that is intended to find closure to this matter and calls on Ms. Harris not to be deterred by the last minute ostracizes shown towards her by the PUL and its EC as well as the NMC’s lackadaisical behavior in mitigating when in all earnest; it was the organizer of said called meeting.

The issue has drawn the attention of the Bong County Journalists Association of Montserrado County.

Warning From Bong Reporters Group

In a statement Thursday, the group said, it is concerned about the ongoing dispute resolution between PUL’s Elections Committee and Harris. “We are concerned about the press release issued a fortnight ago by the National Media Council, indicating that they were unable to hear the elections dispute due to the PUL EC members’ blatant refusal to show up,” the organization said

The group is urging the National Media Council to make amends with immediate effect. “Since they are the body responsible to hear media-related disputes, issues an immediate statement apologizing to Aspirant Harris, for not hearing her complaint and also ensure that the PUL EC with immediate effect appears before that body so that the complaint filed by Miss. Harris is disposed of.”

The group said it fears that if this situation is not resolved by latest 8:00am, November 8, 2019, it could lead to similar situation experienced in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County few years ago where a Writ of Prohibition was placed on the PUL Congress due to the PUL Grievance Committee refusal to hear Journalist Omecee Johnson complaint, which led him with no option but to filed his complaint at the level of Supreme Court.

For Ms. Harris and her team, the battle is not lost.

FrontPageAfrica has learned an injunction of the pending elections is in the works.

Ms. Harris, in a Facebook post this week, hinted that she is exploring all legal means to seek redress. “We assure you that we will relentlessly be pursued all of the internal mechanisms, seeking redress. Against that background, we wrote the Elections Commission on October 26, 2019 expressing our dissatisfaction on their decision to deny our candidature on grounds we considered flimsy.”

It is in this regard, she says, after exhausting all internal remedies; she and her team are left with no other alternative but to seek external intervention into the “Disqualification” of our application which we believe strongly that the EC erred.”

Said Harris: “We humbly seek the support of all members of the Union to stand in solidarity with our next course of action which we believe is in the best interest of the union and in support of the culture of respect for the rule of law, participation and stimulating healthy discussions aimed at enhancing the growth and development of our noble profession.”

The lingering saga comes as the PUL prepares to go into its Congress, the 2019 national gathering of members that will elect its new leadership.
Congress Kicks Off

The program commences on Thursday, with an opening program on the Main Campus of the University of Liberia.

Grand Kru County Representative and House Judicial Committee Chairman, Cllr Fonati Koffa will deliver the keynote address.

The opening program will be followed by two panel discussions, the first on ways of improving the economy of the media and the second on Self-regulation versus State regulation.

Commerce Minister, Wilson K. Tarpeh and Liberia Broadcasting System Director- General Ledgerhood Rennie will address the panel on ways of improving the economy of the media.

Former Press Union President and current West African Journalists Association President, Peter Quaqua, the Chief of Party, Internews, Jan MacArthur and Liberian National Bar Association National Secretary-General, Cllr Bobby Livingstone will discuss the implications of state regulation of the media versus self-regulation.

Key points of discussions and recommendations from the panel will be captured in a report to be presented to the current leadership for onward submission to the in-coming leadership as a mandate of the membership.
Meanwhile, the Congress Committee and the Elections Committee met with all the candidates in the pending Press Union elections and reviewed progress and updated candidates on the preparation for the congress and the elections.

The Committee urged the candidates in the pending elections and supporters to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner in support of the democratic culture.

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