African Governments Warned Against Media Suppression in COVID -19 Fight

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US State Department official Tibor Nagy's statement comes in the wake of recent threats against the media by Liberia's Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus (left) and Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon (right)

A senior US State Department official, Tibor Nagy, has warned African governments including Liberia to avoid using the COVID 19 pandemic to suppress the media.

Mr. Nagy, who works as the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Africa, said the Trump administration is concerned about some countries using the current pandemic to further constrain media freedoms, particularly in response to independent reporting relating to the crisis.

“A vibrant, free press is more important than ever to ensure the public receives timely and accurate information about the virus and how to stop its spread,” he said.

The US diplomat added that African governments’ reaction to the pandemic should focus on protecting public health and not using the outbreak as an excuse to suppress the media.

“Government transparency and accountability and freedom of expression, for members of the media, are critical for an effective response to COVID-19,” Nagy added.

Nagy’s statement came after Liberia’s Solicitor General Syrenius Cephus on April 29 threatened to close down media organizations and confiscate equipment for spreading ‘misinformation’.

“No more warning for media institutions, we will shut down and confiscate their equipment for spreading falsehood and misinformation,” Cephus said.

Adding to the woes, Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon recent move to single-handedly replace media accreditation cards previously issued to journalists to move around freely during the pandemic has been rejected by the Press Union of Liberia.

Min. Fahngon move came despite an agreement between the Ministry of Information and the Press Union to allow journalists to freely perform their duties without let or hindrance during the lockdown.

According to Fahngon, the previous accreditation done in collaboration with the Press Union have been counterfeited by some individuals.

Following Fahngon’s outburst, the leadership of the Press Union of Liberia held a mass meeting with its membership at which time it resolved that its members would continue the use of their appropriate institutional credentials or ones issued by the Press Union.

In a statement issued following the assembly, the Union rejected the action of the government to restrict the movement of journalists is a straightforward attempt to undermine the role of the media in the war against the pandemic.

“The Union also sees the constraints being imposed by the government as running contrary to the warning of the United Nations Secretary-General in his statement marking this year’s World Press Freedom Day,” the statement read.

The Press Union further warned the government that it would be held responsible for any harm and intimidation suffered by journalists and media workers in the face of threats from the deputy information minister.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Not all journalists are needed outside after the lockdown, which suggests government and PUL should discuss a specific number for accreditation whom the latter will choose. The pandemic should be attacked with a united front, because any distraction could undermine containing and eliminating it. Our people face such a grave dangerous that the U.S official shouldn’t be the one telling us to act more responsibly.

    • Sylvester Gbayahforh Moses , that you are now back-pedaling on your cowardly, hypocritical, and lopsided position on this matter, we need t o remind you that the Press IS NOT one of the branches of government; nor is the Press an agency, or ministry of government.

      Hence, no government will have to “discuss a specific number for accreditation whom the latter will choose.” THE GOVERNMENT, THROUGH THE MINISTRY OF INFORMATION, DECIDES ON THE SPECIFIC NUMBER! PERIOD!

  2. This is still confused in carrying on its function to our beloved country. The single enemy in the whole world now is Mr. Corona virus. Why attack the press at this time? Anyway, when irresponsible people are in power, we expect all these.
    Come grab me at my quarantined center here oooo…..SG!!!!

  3. Journalists the worldover are partnering with their respective governments in fighting the pandemic without restrictions because information dissemination is a vital tool in fight the virus, Liberia shouldn’t be an exception. Hope those in authority will arrest the situation to enable us defeat COVID-19.

  4. The government has a legitimate point. An official pass should be authentic and approved by both institutions. Everyone can not be giving the pass. The pass is meant for accredited journalists and not transferable to wives, girlfriends, loved ones and friends. A set numbers should be set and anyone found duplicating a government document should be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If any!

  5. Why would you legitimize the government’s point or if I may add, Mr. Fahngon”s decision to withdraw the pass issued on grounds that they are duplicated? Why should government always atoginize the press when they both should be working together? While we are thinking about fighting this virus by using the media to reach the very least of our population, the Solicitor General, who should be fighting to win cases for government is talking about muscling those who are responsible to reach the very people we want to reach while at the same time Farhgon is denying the press. You who should be rational are there defending these people. You need to put on your objective cap if there is any. No need to just be a defender when there is nothing to defend.

    • Mr. Davis,
      Unfortunately, the only thing these sycophantic idiots know is to sing praises in an effort to continue their free ride on the gravy train. They all lack rationality objectivity in any sense. They are the worst ruthless devils that accompany this so-called “Country Giant” to the Presidency of our Nation.

      Those who are not currently on the gravy train are desperately seeking attention to be brought on board. Eventually, their time will come to an end and this time around, they will account for their actions or inaction in looting the resources of our Nation.

      • Tony Leewaye, why not write ordinarily? Impress with reasonings! Impress not with big words or giant size dictions! You want to impress with big words, when you do not have the competence to construct sentences or advance reasonings with big dictions.

        Look at this other nonsense from you: “They all lack rationality objectivity in any sense.”

        At least you should have written: They lack rational objectivity”! Or: They lack objective rationality!

  6. Why is the government having problem with the press?

    The government wants to gain a monopoly in confusing and misleading the public; on the other hand, it sees the existence of the independent press as a very major obstacle towards the achievement of this goal because the independent press, unlike the government’s information dissemination apparatuses, strives for factual reporting and objectivity.

    So, in this toxic relationship the government now sees the independent press with an antagonistic lens, and under its microscope it views it as one of the deadliest infectious agents that must be exterminated if it must be successful in its drive of reverting all the gains Liberia have had towards democracy over the last decade.

  7. I think ego is at the center of this entire episode. I see no reason for the pulling and hauling.
    The government of Liberia claims duplication in the passes issued and wants a withdrawal. The PUL is claiming witch-hunt will take place. Isn’t this an issue that the two parties can solve without hindrance to the process?
    A similar situation transpired in 1989 when I was a practicing journalist between the PUL leadership of Lamin Wareity and the government of Liberia thru the Information Ministry headed by then Minister Emmanuel Bowier. The issue of accreditation came to the fold. PUL wanted to have the exclusive rights to accredit us. The government said no it couldn’t surrender its function to the PUL.
    The PUL called a meeting in which the Information Minister was invited. The issue was put before the body. Views were expressed and the members felt censorship was not too far from the government’s action to superintend the process.
    Minister Bowier said there would be no censorship and all it was asking was for the PUL to present the listing so that its membership could be accredited. He concluded by saying in his view, this was the best way forward and any rejection by PUL, it was shooting itself in the leg. With that said, the Minister left.
    The meeting concluded on the issue by asking the leadership to review the statement from government at an executive meeting and take the appropriate action. At the end of it all, we were accredited with supervision from the Ministry. In fact, our cards were collected from the Ministry by our respective institutions without hindrance.
    I therefore do not really understand this hauling and pulling if it’s not ego and someone trying to show exuberance.

    • “These people” who are bizarrely and indeed weirdly implying that the PUL should be responsible for the accreditation of journalists, should ask themselves as to how many sovereign nations within the comity and community of nations have ever given such responsibility to a mere umbrella organization of journalists!

      Sometimes, “these people” compel one to describe their individual and collective disposition as chronic insanity! Which ECOWAS member gives such task to a union of journalists? NONE! But in Liberia, these rascals foolishly believe the GOL should take such obligation away from the Ministry of Information which is constitutionally obligated with that mandate!

  8. But never mind the noise from the United States government about warning African governments. Usually, people living under suppressive surveillance will always take delight in these sort of statements from the United States believing that the US government will do something, or that the US government is standing with them. Only to be dumped and be misled by such statements. We have seen how they stood with the protesters or people of Iran and Venezuela, while encouraging to believe that the United States will do something. In the case of Liberia, the United States have put out severals warning, from political bad governance practices, the rule of law , corruption, arbitrary arrests and many more , such as that country’s involvement in human trafficking . These acts have all come with warnings from the US but nothing. Citizens of Iran and Venezuela and others suppressive regimes have poured into the streets against their rulers based on statements from the US government. So never mind dog without teeth.

  9. The US has a big problem that bigger than itself! hence, let them leave Mother Africa and Mama Liberia alone. Peace

  10. Cou Gountee,

    Please, provide support of my “back pedaling” on a “cowardly, hypocritical and lopsided position on this matter”. If you had quoted me, someone engaging this story for the first time wouldn’t speculate whether those demeaning adjectives are deserved. I’m waiting for your response, and don’t disappoint anyone whose curiosity might have been roused by the attack.

  11. Kou Gontee,

    Wrong spelling of your first name wasn’t intentional, therefore, don’t make it an issue while showing evidence of my “back-pedaling” and “cowardly” hypocrisy…

  12. Sylvester Gbayahforh Moses, the spelling of oneś name is less important in many cases.

    Sylvester Moses, from all extrapolations, you intended to make the GOL to appear as the culprit or the problem, you turned a blind eye to the crux of the matter- which was or is the GOLŚ contention that PUL was engaged in dishonesty by issuing passes to people who were not journalists!

    This position or conclusion of yours: “it isn’t the duty of government to decide who THOSE should be”, proves that. Now that you are concluding with: “Not all journalists are needed outside after the lockdown”; you are back-pedaling!

    LOOK IT IN THE MIRROR!: ( If PUL’s Cuffey is correct”. “government was ill-advised”. “It isn’t the duty of government to decide who THOSE should be”. Not all journalists are needed outside after the lockdown”;- the indicia you are back-pedaling!

  13. Koi Gontee

    Of course, worldwide, “not all journalists are needed outside after lockdowns”, but that doesn’t mean governments must choose those among them who should’ve accreditation. What is contradictory there to be termed “back-pedaling”, “cowardly”, and “hypocritical“. As a matter of fact, a peep on my Facebook links to both stories would prove my consistency on that point. Next time, instead of insulting first, read and understand. I will not be this conciliatory again.

    One more thing, I’m an unapologetic advocate for stability who also cheers GMW’s PPAD, and towards that end, I won’t be silent when inciters are stoking confusion. However, state actors whose behaviors have potential to undermine stability won’t be spared my criticisms. In other words, no one should expect me to toe the official line even when it is counterproductive. I never sought compensation for my perspectives; their integrity relies on my independence: Rubbish!

  14. Sylvester Moses, what the hell I care about you being “conciliatory”? You can assimilate or interpret whatever criticism of mine as an “insult”! You are entitled to your right of interpretation!

    I repeat: Sylvester Moses, you were very cowardly and hypocritical by downplaying the fraudulent modus operandi and modus vivendi on the part of the PUL while at the same time cowardly wanting to impute wrong doing on the GOL, only to “look good” to these losers of election and their zombies! Next time you better swallow your rubbish!

  15. Kou Gontee

    If “look good to losers of election” sums up your view of any fair-minded approach to the Liberian conversation, don’t be surprised at the shock of someone with background in public safety and a passion for literary criticism. These exchanges convey an impression that you’re indifferent to truth and often pugnacious without provocation. I am hoping that perception wrong. For, it’s a combination which endangers the reportedly collective aspiration for reconciliation, stability, and peace: Bye.

  16. Sylvester Moses, only an ignoramus, a gullible, or a zombie, cannot differentiate between a stereotypical, bias, deceptive, cowardly, or hypocritical, “approach” to whichever national “conversation.” These lapses and fraudulent dispositions were yous in these exchanges on the dishonest modus operandi of the PUL as DETECTED, and discovered by the GOL.

    What I have gathered about you here, is that you are an unprincipled individual with an opportunistic mindset; as others have lashed out about you on several occasions. No wonder “no one” wants to trust you anymore. As for us, with valor and with vigor, we will move up against the tide or any foe! For as it is said: “Truth knows no barrier”!!

  17. Sylvester Moses, only an ignoramus, a gullible, or a zombie, cannot differentiate between “a fair-minded approach,” and a stereotypical, bias, deceptive, cowardly, or hypocritical, “approach” to whichever national “conversation.” These lapses and fraudulent dispositions were yours in these exchanges on the dishonest modus operandi of the PUL as DETECTED, and discovered by the GOL.

    Accordingly, what I have gathered about you here, is that you are an unprincipled individual with an opportunistic mindset; as others have lashed out about you on several occasions. No wonder “no one” wants to trust you anymore. As for us, with valor and with vigor, we will move up against the tide or any foe! For as it is said: “Truth knows no barrier”!!

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