President Speech at World Press Freedom Day May 3, 2019

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.

-------Thomas  Jefferson------

Freedom  of  the press, if  it  means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.

--------George  Orwell------

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.

-----Benjamin Franklin-----

Franklin D  Roosevelt; Absolute  freedom of the press to discuss public  questions  is  a foundation stone of  American liberty.


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