World Press Freedom Day - Speech - President, Press Union of Liberia

K. Abdullai Kamara – President, Press Union of Liberia
May 3, 2014
Bopolu, Gbarpolu County

The Superintendent and officials of Gbarpolu County
Senator Jallah and Members of the Gbarpolu Legislative Caucus
Minister Isaac Jackson & other officials of Government
IREX, UNESCO and other media development partners
Esteemed Colleagues
Ladies & Gentlemen

Happy World Press Freedom Day! May this day inspire in us the duty to be professional in our roles as journalists, going forward to report the happenings in our community to help make our society better.

A Free Press

World Press Freedom Day is set aside for journalists, then government and the public to reaffirm their commitment to press freedom and related freedoms. So, on this occasion, it is fair to talk about the challenges and opportunities available for media and journalists across the world, but also to strengthen our reportage of issues that affect our world. For today’s observance, the Press Union of Liberia is emphasizing poverty and development in our country, and how the media can effectively engage these issues to help make Liberia better.

Development is key and still outstanding in our country. Our choice of Gbarpolu for the World Press Freedom Day is a simple reflection of the reality that no segment of our country can go forward without the other. Journalists in Liberia cannot be effectively reporting development, if the issues are mainly about the government in Monrovia.
Just as places like Gou Wolaila and Belle remain isolated in Liberian governance and practices, the issues that affect them are also not reported.

We can never be moving forward with such a mentality. So, when the reality dawned that we should observe World Press Freedom Day in a backwater county like Gbarpolu, the concept also dawned that the observance should include real life reportage of mining in Weasua and Waiyama and Henry Town; Isolated areas like Belle Yealla; historic mosaics like Bopolu and the mountainous forests of Kongba. We are here, and are glad that the county people and officials saw our point as worthwhile. The challenge now is for the journalists to not only report the mundane circumstances in Gbarpolu, but to follow up these concerns and see what changes these reports will bring to the county. While we are speaking the development of the community, we remain quite aware that we must be free - free enough to discuss the issues of our communities without any fear of getting ejected because they have not been acceptable to the Vice President; free enough to fiercely disagree with the National Police and the National Security Agency and not think for any reason that our operating permits will suddenly become subjected to expiration and revocation.

These postures point at a high degree of intolerance that does not seem to be in agreement with the government's professed commitment to working for a free media.
- Government statements in the run up to the WPFD have been appalling to say the least, and indicate a discomfort with the freedom of information regime that they themselves point at;

Public officials need have a structured approach to responding to issues that impact freedom of expression. The statements either indicate a hypocritical response to press freedom or an ignorance of the issues which underpin a free press.

The approach of threatening seizure, closure or ejection being projected by high ranking government officials is in sync with the disturbing trend of exclusion that is running in our country today. This is just bad, and represents an adverse response to the concept of reconciliation and unification that almost all ordinary Liberians think our country should be headed.

When a post country nation begins to pursue any agenda - political, development or economic - or the precept of excluding any one party or another, we are playing the wrong game, and indicating that we are just not ready yet.

Media Ethics & Professionalism

We cannot agree any further that there are some journalists, whose works bring their credibility to question. This is also true of lawyers, doctors, mechanics and teachers. Notwithstanding, there are Liberian journalists who are daily recognized for the effort and professionalism they put in their work. Such is life. But given that journalism is informed by a human right, the approach to addressing the shortcomings should not be in shutting down.

We look forward to strengthening our self regulation mechanism, to continuously name and shame bad journalists. We also call on other members of the society, including the government and private sector not to collude with journalists to blackmail others.
When the Press Union names a journalist as a conscientious defaulter, others must take heed and work with them cautiously. You cannot support someone to be unprofessional, and you expect us to bar another person of the same category, simply because they are keen on their right to disagree.

Journalists must realize that their work is hinged on the truth, respect for the rights of others and an obligation to work towards the collective good of the society. Anything other than that takes away from your journalism.
We challenge you to do the right thing.

Towards this, the PUL remains committed to working with all who aspire to journalism. We cannot stop you, but we can help you to get better. That is our obligation to good journalism.

As this cannot be a singular effort, we therefore call on the Government of Liberia to support the Press Union of Liberia in strengthening training and capacity building programs for the journalist. This can be better worked out through budgetary allocations. We are following this call with communications to the relevant government agencies.

Finally in line with the great work being done by Liberian journalists, to the effect that they are being recognized beyond our borders, and indeed globally, I like to pay tribute to my predecessor at the Press Union of Liberia. This is a man who stood firm in his defense for free speech and press in Liberia; a man whose exemplary leadership with the Press Union of Liberia inspired colleagues across West Africa to select him as president of the West African Journalists Association (WAJA). We must applaud Mr. Peter Quaqua.

Similarly, we applaud the reigning Press Union of Liberia Journalist of the Year Ms Wade Williams for being selected to the global World Press Freedom Day panel at the United Nations General Assembly. She was not selected because of her beauty, but rather for her hard work in journalism and her resilience to stand up for the truth.

We also like to recognize Mr. Rodney Sieh of the Front Page Africa Newspaper on his selection as one of 100 Information Champions by the global freedom of press organization - Reporters san Frontieres. This is truly merited.

Congratulations folks! What the world is seeing is great journalism, Liberia, including the government must not lose sight.
Working Condition of the Media in Liberia

As much as we try, there are instances within our environment that negatively impact journalisms. Salaries and emoluments are low. We appreciate the Reporters Association for their day-long dialogue on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We look forward to your recommendations, and we pledge to engage the management of media houses to work with us in reaching an early resolution. The challenge now is on the management and owners of media institutions to make efforts to change this story. Journalists cannot spend their lives reporting human rights abuses across Liberia, yet remain the victims of low wages and poor working conditions.

The Press Union of Liberia recognizes the economic conditions, the limited adverts, etc, but the journalists must be among the priority of the media houses’ obligations.

And before we leave, we like to protest the flogging and robbing of journalist Benson Whea by officers of the Liberia National Police. This is just bad. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding Whea’s arrest, you cannot be manhandling someone with no weapons, and non-resistance. We also protest the loss of his shoes and other materials within minutes of his arrest.

The work of the Police must reflect the resources committed to its development by insisting upon professionalism in all aspects of its work.
This brings us to a complaint filed against officers of the Liberia National Police for manhandling and destroying materials belonging to Journalist Papie Kollie. To date, we have fully cooperated with the Professional Standards Division, and we are yet to get the result of the investigations. We expect better.

With this, we like to express a Happy World Press Freedom Day to all journalists and others across Liberia and the world. Let us continue to stand up for a free and independent media.

Thank You

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