On behalf of the Press Union of Liberia it our greatest pleasure to welcome all of you have gathered here today to join journalists, media advocates, civil society and democracy lovers as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The show of support symbolizes that a growing number of people in our country believe, or in the least recognize, that the media is an integral part of the democracy consolidation in Liberia, and it must be supported with a deep dose of freedom.
The celebration here is meant to recount the challenges media face in the discharge of our duties, but also to recognize progress and in the same vein lay claim to the opportunities that are available to make media a lot more relevant.
It is no gain saying that media is challenged. But it is also no gainsaying that journalists, democracy activists and the larger Liberian populace are resolved that to move forward they must demand their freedom and responsibly and professionally celebrate it.
So it is with media in Liberia.
Across the world today journalists and media lovers are celebrating this day. For Liberia, the theme has been modified “Promoting a Free Press to Ensure Sustainable Development in Liberia,” and will be held with appropriate activities in Lofa County from May 1-3, 2016. In line with this modification, yesterday reporters visited various locations within the county to report poverty, development, investment and the provision of social services. As a consequence of these reports, the county will be highlighted in the media, drawing the attention of national government and the development community to outstanding issues.
In adopting this theme, we are guided by the fact that press freedom and the right to information have a direct relevance to achieving these goals, and can also be seen as implicit goals themselves. The SDGs will set the agenda for many policy decisions in coming years, impact on resource mobilization and flows, and highlight the common interest in humanity in a durable process of improving the lives of every person.
The SDGs recognize that sustainable development includes “public access to information and fundamental freedoms.” As a SDG target, these objectives are a sub-part of a wider goal (number 16) to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” It is clear that public access to information and fundamental freedoms are not only an end in themselves, but also an important means to Goal 16 as a whole, and to the rest of the SDG goals – such as those on gender equality and addressing climate change.
Irrespective of the demand for a free press in Liberia and most other parts of the world, there are credible reports and accounts of media misconduct. This is true in almost all other professional areas. The Press Union of Liberia does not take kindly to misconduct and we continue setting up appropriate mechanisms to address them. We have a Grievance & Ethics Committee which reviews whatever complaints of misconduct and normally take punitive measures. Within the coming weeks, we will be recruiting a special staff to directly monitor claims of misconduct and summarize them for the Committee. We recognize that the members of the committee have other responsibilities and may often not be available as a complaint comes in. However this challenge, the Press Union of Liberia is determined to name and shame anyone who opts not to be professional in their journalism.
Across the last months, media in Liberia was alarmed by deliberate government comments that threatened the freedom we have variously attempted to celebrate. When the (now former) Attorney indicated that people (journalists) will be charged for spreading lies, we are urgently reminded of the darker days in the 1980s when the infamous decree 88A made the rounds.
When Simeon Freeman was threatened with arrest and Vandalark Patricks actually arrested for sedition, the alarm was higher. We cannot afford to lose all that have been gained. While we may not be very clear why the Justice Minister resigned, we nonetheless feel that the posture he took then does not augur well for democracy, and we urge the government to make a clearer position on this.
Irrespective of the challenges we put forth at the time, we appreciate that the Vice President, from such a high standing in government would still muster the courage to attend an event of the Press Union of Liberia, especially when it is very clear that we will be discussing these issues.
The diversity and variance of opinions and thoughts are important attributes of democracy, and any government that aspires to these virtues must protect it.
Speech must be treated as a civil activity, and anyone whether from government or the private sector who feels slighted by speech is justified in seeking civil recourse. We therefore call upon the Government to remain engaged with the PUL and media partners in ensuring the passage of laws that will decriminalize speech offenses.
Notwithstanding this right, the PUL remains convinced that taking actions to silence media because they are unduly critical of functions and roles in public affairs weakens the capacity of media to report the issues that could contribute to conflict and bad governance.
In furtherance of this, the Press Union of Liberia, in partnership with INTERNEWS and the support of the USAID will be organizing a media law conference on 10th and 11th May. It is our conviction that this conference will add upon the engagements of 2004 that led to the passage in 2010 of the Freedom of Information Law. We still believe that a number of laws affecting the media, including Government support for community radio stations, transforming the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System into a public service broadcaster; and the development of an independent broadcast regulator will go a long way into developing the media landscape and making democracy a better call in Liberia.
Media obligation and accountability
Irrespective of our demands for a civil recourse to media infractions, We hold that anything that appears on any media platform ought to be the truth. Anything that appears in media ought to represent the greater good of society, make efforts towards seeking justice and stand tall for peace. Anything otherwise cannot be the journalism for all that we reference when we recite the Journalism Creed.
Coming to the elections of 2017, there will be increased media participation. But for once, the involvement of media must be for the greater good of Liberia. We must use our pens and microphone to tell the story in a way that Liberia benefits. We must report the issues around the elections such that we do not scare people away. Our reportage must encourage greater citizen participation, again in a more positive way. All involved in the process must be heard, all issues must be brought forward, This is an obligation of the media – and we must take it from here!
Make no mistake, this note is not meant to limit your freedom to disagree, pursue the truth and expose illegality. We only owe an obligation to society to provide them the truth that should guide them in making useful decisions in their day to day life.
Annual Awards Night
The World Press Freedom Day continues with the Annual Awards Night on Friday, June 3 in Monrovia. At that event, a top brow committee will be reviewing the quality journalism that has been presented by members of the Press Union of Liberia. It is our hope that those recognized then will serve as models to emulate in good journalism. It is my understanding that the committee is redefining the rules and will come out with guidelines within the next few days.
We call on all members of the PUL to cooperate with the committee and present their applications. Best practice in media awards require that journalists self evaluate. It cannot be different here.
Closing & Acknowledgement
We appreciate the support towards these activities by our core media development partners: UNESCO and INTERNEWS; as well as our partners in Liberian society, including the NASSCORP, the Liberia Football Association…
We also note the collaboration of Vice President Joseph Boakai, Cllr Charles Brumskine, Speaker Alex Tyler, Rep Edwin Snowe, The Lofa County Legislative Caucus, The Lofa County Administration, the people of Lofa, including our partners and colleagues from Radio Kitoma, Radio Life from Zorzor, Radio Harleyngee in Kolahun, Radio Tamba Taikor.... for the level of cooperation
Of course, we dare to recognize the diligent members of the Press Union of Liberia who challenged their other duties to find their way to Lofa. We look forward to better journalism and a professional discourse of the true and full Liberian story. Together we can make journalism better.
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