UK Salutes Liberia’s Milestone Media Reforms as Minister Nagbe Envisages New Approach to Libel Cases


London – The Minister for Development at The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and top Official for Africa, has recognized Liberia’s decriminalisation of laws that limited speech and expression, the criminal libel against the president and sedition.

Delivering the opening address at a panel on “Press Freedom, Development and Democracy in Africa” as part of Global Media Conference -held in London under the aegis of the Governments  of the United Kingdom and Canada- Minister Harriett Baldwin reminded the delegates about the  important nature of the gains made by Liberia with the passage of the ‘KAK Press Freedom legislation’ .

“Through my honourable friend, Minister Eugene Lenn Nagbe, can I also salute Liberia, on passing their press freedom legislation. It’s a milestone truly to be celebrated. It decriminalised libel against the president and amended the law on sedition. I think we should all give them a warm round of applause”. Minister Baldwin said.

She also hailed the African Union for leading efforts on the continent regarding a free society. Indicating that the presence of the UK Foreign Secretary at the 2019 World Press Freedom Day in Addis Abiba, Ethiopia further testifies to the UK support for media freedom on the continent and worldwide.

“We know that free media enables people to learn about their rights and hold governments to account. this is vital for developing free and open societies”

She intimated that when people can engage with the decisions that affect them, they can prove the effectiveness of their government.

“Such environment makes business better, improves civil society and eventually, they take charge of their development.” noting that this enables international prosperity.”

According to a dispatch from London,Minster Baldwin bemoaned the crisis state of media freedom around the world. She recalled that in many developing countries, the size and strength of the independent media is increasingly constrained.

Notably, with three   journalists killed in the line of duty during the last month; as others are harassed and attacked. Emphasising that this worrying trend cannot continue.

New UK Media Support

As a co-convener of the two-day Global Media Freedom Conference- the United Kingdom has also rolled out series of critical interventions in advancing press freedom, professional journalism and media freedom mostly in Africa.

Aware about the increasing wave of disinformation, The UK government is leading with a 15 Million Pounds support to protect independent media in several countries in Africa.

 Additionally, the UK Foreign Secretary has announced a new Chevening Africa Media Freedom Fellowship. The new program will assemble 60 exceptional African journalists to develop their craft at some of UK’s best news corporation, over the next five years.

A crucial outcome of the two-day media conference is also the Global media defence fund -launched in partnership with UNECSO and the UK Government. “critical partnership such as these- are essential to tackle deep rooted challenges” said Minister Baldwin.

Rational Civil Libel

With monumental gains already recorded in decriminalising speech in Liberia, the chief spokesman of government is calling for caution and proportionality regarding civil libel suit.

Speaking on the panel of policy makers, practitioners and governments from Africa, Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, informed the London forum about efforts to ensure claims against media houses for ethical transgressions- do not become so excessive to the extent they limit media freedom and speech.

Minister Nagbe argued that such claims ought not to overwhelm the financial base of media houses and ultimately erode the gains from decriminalising speech and other media reforms.

Towards this end, Minster Nagbe informed the panel and delegates that Government is working with the Press Union of Liberia- to seek a review of Liberia’s civil libel regime- with efforts aimed at strengthening the state of media freedom in the country.

“A fundamental requirement for a free society is that we must recognise that media freedom is not a gift to journalists – but a requirement – for society to grow, to thrive and be democratic.” Minister Nagbe asserted.

Minister Nagbe advanced the need for conscious efforts in Liberia around the legal framework, along with practices and systems that inhibit free speech and press.

Insisting that without free media, we cannot have a democratic society, the press is an indispensable component of democratic society.

The review of Liberia’s current democratic dispensation must not lose sight of the challenging historical realities that preceded it; From a one-party rule to years dictatorship   and conflict. Minister pointed out.

He stressed that removing draconian laws, was a critical test towards broadening media reforms. Which has now produced a vibrant opposition and media- major catalysts to a free press and development.

“The role of government, and what is now happening in Liberia, is that we are working with civil society and PUL- to identify bottlenecks against a free and broad-based society.” The Minister Concluded.

The   Global Conference for Media Freedom, London 2019 was organised by the Governments of The United Kingdom and Canada between July 10-11 in London, England.

The event brought together governments, multilateral agencies, civil society and journalists, to debate and take actions.

The Conference is part of an international campaign  to shine a spotlight on media freedom everywhere, increasing the costs to those violating  it -while Improving the safety of journalists;  and improving the safety of media workers and their ability to work without interference, reducing attacks on journalists and easing restrictions on freedom of media and expression.

Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, headed the Liberian delegation that also included the Director General of the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS). The delegation also included Sarah Evans of Rediscover Liberia Project; and the Minister Counsellor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy of Liberia near London, Albert K. Jaja.