The transition from autocratic rule to democratic governance in West Africa within the last two decades has been associated with the liberalization of the media landscape in nearly all the countriesin the region. The media landscape has, thus, transitioned from the situation of single state-owned, government-controlled radio, television and newspaperoutlets, toan environment that is characterized by nominally plural and diversely-owned media outlets.
The increasing penetration and use of the internet and the emergence of social media have also presumably democratized and diversified the processesof producing(orco-producing) the news and information available within the public sphere. Thus, besides mainstream media and professional media practitioners, there are other media content creators suchas bloggers and citizen journalists. In other words, legacy media outlets no longer have the monopoly of information generation and dissemination.
However, in a democratic dispensation where the media are expected to be watchdogs and enablers of transparencyand accountabilityin governance, what is critical is not just the existence of multiple media outlets, but also, the corporate independence and editorial autonomy of their institutions and practitioners, the quality of their output and their capacity to give voice and visibility to all shades of opinion and interests, and ultimately, their impacton the State.Within the lasttwo decades, therehave been a number of interventions in the region aimed at addressing the challenges facing the media. Efforts at improving the media sector have achieved modest gains but there are still significant barriers.
Promoting the safety of journalists and combating impunity for those who killed them is of priority to all journalists organizations in the world, including the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, in which the press Union of Liberia is a member. According to the UNESCO report, on average, every five days a journalist is killed somewhere in the world for bringing information to the public. The African media is also confronted with IMPUNIT. Over the last ten years the continent has witnessed the brutal murder of a significant number of some of its best journalists. The common denominator behind all these murders is that perpetrators of these heinous crimes are still at large. The PUL in solidarity with victims, has continued to vehemently condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms and has been persistently calling on governments in those countries concern to conduct credible and independent investigations into these murders. For us in Liberia, the government through our judicial system is prosecuting the killer of journalist Tyron Brown .
Access to information bill
A major challenge for most countries in the world is the passage of media freedom bills including access to information, table mountain declaration and the decriminalization of speech offenses by their governments. We call on freedom of information laws to be strengthened, simplified where they exist and for them to be created where they do not already exist. For us in Liberia, we are ahead of because our government has complied with some provisions of the UN conventions on media freedom. Evidence being the passage of the freedom of information law, establishment of the freedom of information commission, and acceded to the table mountain declaration. To further ensure its total commitment to press freedom, freedom of expression and peaceful and political assembly, the Liberian government in a relatively short period of time in its second of steering the affairs of the state, decriminalized speech offenses inline compliance to the table mountain declaration. This initiative by government is a clear manifestation of its pledge to further accelerate its accountability and transparency efforts intended to strengthen public confidence.
The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) commends the Liberian government for honoring its commitment in supporting the passage of the bill to decriminalize speech offense named in honor of the former PUL president the late KAK. This will positively impact the lives and livelihood of Liberian citizens and contribute to overcoming the societal and structural inequities that were at the root of the Liberian conflict. Liberia is now considered as one of the countries in the world with an improved media environment.
Freedom of speech is the foundation of every free democratic society as such we are committed to cultivating a future in which truth and justice are upheld, where media freedom is robustly protected and culturally embraced.
We called on government, civil society, political parties, religious and all stakeholders in the Liberian society to positively utilize the law and resist all acts capable to undermine the significant gains made in our democratic process.
The passage of the Liberia is positively profiling Liberia internationally, being one of the countries in the world to decriminalize speech offenses.
Another major area of concern is Collective Bargaining :
The current working conditions of some journalists in Africa with Liberia being no exception, represent a major impediment to their capacity to perform in line with professional ethics and professional obligations. Poor conditions of service for some journalists, remain a major concern in the country. Thus, the status and state of the professional organizations, with inadequate resources to ensure sustainable, progressive programs of action on behalf of their members, requires immediate and direct interventions if realistic prospects for meaningful change were to be realized. Due to economic constraints by most media institutions, a significant number of journalists working in the country have no job security. They are deprived from any form of social security, health benefits, while some are owed numerous months of salaries. Closely related to this, is the fact that many Liberian journalists, especially those in the junior division, who work as reporters, are poorly paid and ill motivated which partly explains the poor performances of some of these journalists and most importantly, the continuous disregard of the ethics of the profession. In light of these critical issues, there has been a clarion call by the IFJ Africa office and some media organizations in the continent, for a collective bargaining standard framework that will to some extent determine what journalists are paid, their conditions of service in relation to the qualifications that they have and their level of professionalism. The Press Union of Liberia is in the forefront of this crucial path and is confident that the desired results will come sooner rather than later.
Already, there have been great strides in this regard in Liberia. Standard collective agreement has been adopted, while collective negotiations have been launched at media institutions level. Several media institutions have met the bench marks and have expressed willingness to sign the agreement. However, there still remains a herculean task ahead. Many media owners and executives have often not been committed to any form of collective bargaining agreements for their workers.
We are also negotiating with those still delaying to sign to see reason.
As we celebrate World Freedom Day and the decriminalization of speech offenses by the Liberian government, it is the responsibility of the media to remain more ethical, professional and patriotic in its actions and dealings, because the media is also a double-edged sword. It can be a frightful weapon of violence when it propagates messages of intoleranceor disinformation that manipulates public sentiment. If the media reports propaganda and is one sided that same media may also fuel tension and provoke conflict.
Remember, many, many years ago, It was hate message by the media that created a misunderstanding that largely contributed to the Rwandan genocide, in which the power struggle between the two dominant ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis degenerated into armed uprising in which the majority Hutus killed hundreds of thousandsof the minority Tutsis. Similar scenario unfolded in theneighboring Ivory Coast and several African countries where some of the media institutions were constrained to project only violent version of stories, as a result the public, the media was protecting was affected with thedestruction of lives and properties. However, there is another aspect of the media. It can be an instrument of conflict resolution, when the information it represents is reliable, respect human rights, security policy, and represents diverse views. It is the kind of media that enables a society to make well-informed choices, which is a forerunner of democratic governance. It is the media that reduced conflict and foster human rights and justice. The media can reinforce and change the attitudes of the masses toward the State. If the media talks issues of inclusiveness, unity, and tolerance it becomes a useful tool in conflict resolution. A media which is controlled by personnel who apply professional ethics combined with national ownership and diverse access to information can contribute to societal reconciliation, alter misperceptions, and broaden understanding of causes and consequences of conflict.
The media should not keep on talking about historical conflicts telling people that current possible conflicts are unavoidable but it should talk words of tolerance and peace, in its contents the media should create an image that outbreak of conflict can be amicably resolved and return to peace is a number one priority of the society. As president of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), I repeatedly caution media practitioners that irrespective of the problem facing journalists in Liberia, there is always a need for all journalists to conform to professional ethics and the journalist’s creed. Responsible journalism is indispensable to the building of a vibrant and democratic society.
This is why it is expected that the press and the government work together to promote the common values, which are in the interest of peace, democracy, and development. The general focus of the PUL is to advocate enabling environment for journalists and media to perform their role without fear or favor.the global theme, ‘’Media for Democracy : Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation. The Theme, discusses current challenges faced by media in elections, along with the media’s potential in supporting peace and reconciliation processes. This is a clear manifestation of the UN’s desire to ensure a conducive electoral environment through the media by its actions, dealings, reportage, daily content and other media works, to make the world peaceful and a safer place for diversity as peace is the bedrock of progress and development. This demands active and purposive search for ideas that promote peace and national cohesion. Because, access to information is key to national development. This means media practitioners must seek to provide the public with information that would enable them to make intelligent choices on national issues including electoral matters. The public’s right to information is a fundamental democratic right. It is therefore non-negotiable and cannot be circumvented. Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impact information and ideas through any media and regardless of boundaries.’’
Also, Article 15 of the Liberian constitution provides that all persons shall have the right to information subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society.
This provision places dual responsibility on the media. First, it enjoins the media to honor the public’s right to information to enable them participate actively in the governance of the nation. Second, and deriving from the first responsibility, it places an injunction on the media not to conceal information from the public. True journalism demands comprehensive, fair, impartial and objective gathering and presentation of information.
The world press freedom day was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations, in December 1993,as an outgrowth of the seminar on promoting an independent and pluralistic African Press. This seminar took place in Namibia in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on promoting independent and pluralistic media.The Windhoek Declaration called to establish, maintain and foster an independent, pluralistic and free press. It emphasized the importance of a free press for developing and maintaining democracy in a nation, and for economic development. The World Press Freedom Day is celebrated annually on May 3, the date on which the Windhoek Declaration was adopted. Although World Press Freedom day has only been celebrated since 1993, it has much deeper roots in the United Nations. This year marks the 26th celebration of the world press freedom day since its establishment and it is jointly organized by UNESCO, the African Union Commission and the government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Official ceremony is currently, taking place in Addis Ababa, at the headquarters of the African Union, and it is being held on depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.
Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.
A free press can be good or bad, but most certainly, without freedom a press will never be anything, but bad.
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
Franklin D Roosevelt; Absolute freedom of the press to discuss public questions is a foundation stone of American liberty.
GOOD LUCK . HAPPY PRESS FREEDOM DAY. LONG LIVE LIBERIA
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