Members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) have unanimously embraced the national honor bestowed on the Liberian media by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but are calling on the government to repeal anti-free media laws on the book.
President Sirleaf last Friday, July 17, 2015 admitted the PUL into the Order of the Star of Africa with the grade of Grand Commander, the first time the Liberian media has received such national recognition.
The President bestowed the distinction on the PUL, among others, for the media’s excellent role in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) that has claimed more the 4,000 lives in Liberia since March 2014.
In a citation on the PUL, President Sirleaf said: “With the level of media engagements, the story of the successful fight against the EVD in Liberia cannot be told without emphasizing the outstanding role of the media through radios, newspapers and TV.”
Presenting the award to members of the Union during a mass meeting at the Union’s headquartersWednesday, PUL President K. Abdullai Kamara said, despite the many challenges, the media played a pivotal role in the fight against Ebola and deserve the award. “Did we deserve this award? Of course yes, and that is why we attended the event before we are presenting it to all of you now,” Kamara said.
Because the media has done a great work in creating awareness and educating the public, there is a big calm among the public after the recent outbreak of the virus, the PUL President said, noting that the media has already done a better job. He challenged the media to keep doing professional work and not to go on recess in educating the public about the after-effects of the outbreak.
Kamara said the government needed to do more in protecting the media by repealing laws that undermine the free press. He said though the government signed onto the Table Mountain Declaration to decriminalize media offenses, the document remains meaningless unless repressive laws are repealed.
Noting that the award challenges the media to do better, Kamara lamented that media contents over the months have not been better and need to be improved. “It has not been the kindest thing,” he emphasized, challenging journalists and media institutions to use laws like the Freedom of Information in requesting information to back up their reports.
He frowned on increasing reports of blackmail by some journalists and indicated that the PUL will not hesitate to expose and penalize its members who breach professional ethics.
Journalists attending the mass meeting and presentation ceremonies applauded the Government’s recognition of the media, but called for more free space for the media to work, void of intimidation, harassment and attacks.
D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh