President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called on the Press Union of Liberia and its partners, including Internews and the Liberia Media Development programs, to join the government in its efforts to make Liberia an environment conducive to the practice of journalism as a profession, and committed to the protection of journalists.
With specific reference to the repealing of the seditious and criminal libel laws that have for years restrained freedom of speech and of the press, and intimidated journalists, President Sirleaf told the PUL to assist government in having these laws, many of which are decreed, repealed.
“When we signed the Table Mountain Declaration in 2012, it was and is still in the interest of repealing the seditious and criminal libel laws. Since 2012, it has taken too long, but we want to urge the PUL that rather than criticizing, you should join us in this process in getting it done,” President Sirleaf said.
The President was delivering the keynote address yesterday at the two-day media law reform conference in Monrovia. It is organized by PUL, Internews Network, a US based international non-profit organization, and other partners.
“We should ensure that whatever is at the Legislature is passed and we appeal to our lawmakers to assist us in this endeavor. We also want to call on the civil society organizations to join us to make this come to pass,” she said.
The President also told the audience that one of the things that needed to be done is the establishment of a regulatory body, one that will ensure that the values and principles of good journalism are adhered to.
“Many of our sister countries and other African countries have subscribed to this best international standard and we must do likewise,” she said.
“We understand that Internews with worldwide experience is empowering the media in 90 countries and that it will use such leverage to our local media to become more accountable, responsible and professional in their service to our country,” she said.
The President noted that her government fully subscribes to and offers its partnership to the reform agenda, which has an objective that places emphasis on equipping and empowering the local media not just for sustainability of media houses but equipping them with the tools, skills and values that will make journalists place country above self.
She further noted that this calls for quality in news gathering and packaging for a hungry population.
The President said as the PUL and its partners embark upon strengthening these legally enormous goals for a more free media, the onus is upon the media to tell the truth and curb deliberate ethical transgressions that are now common in the Liberian society.
The president noted that the 2010 Freedom of Information Act was a clear testament to the government’s political and social tolerance, as well as freedom of the press.
She noted that Liberia has the enviable record of being the first West African country to pass the FOI Act into law.
She also made mention of some pitfalls on the part of the Liberian media, some of which has to do with violations of the country’s law. She said some media houses have refused to register, while others are not even paying their taxes; she also indicated that journalists are promoting politics rather than journalism, which is the crux of their craft.
The chairman of the House of Senate Committee on Information and Broadcasting, J. Milton Teahjay, described the media’s regulatory reform law as a huge process that at the right time will regulate free and fair press freedom in the country.
The Senior Senator of Sinoe County called on international media institutions to provide support directly to media houses rather than investing in workshops and other forms of training that has not yielded concrete results.
The Sinoe County Senator disclosed that media institutions are suffering and that they need support from other partners to strengthen them in providing the information to the public.
The Chief of Party of Internews, Henri-Paul Bolap, said his institution, through the Liberia Media Development Program (LMD), is proud to support the Liberian media sector.
“This support goes not only in its daily functioning, but also on a larger perspective aims at furthering and strengthening the press in Liberia, through a fully funded ethics committee, revision of the Liberia Journalists’ Ethics Code, support to Media Excellence Award, and organizational capacity development, among others,” he said.
Internews in partnership with Albany Associate of the United Kingdom and the Liberia Media Development Initiative (LMDI) is leading a media law and regulatory agenda for a transformed media, an initiative that began in 2004.
Internews aims to empower local media to help the sustainability of media houses and strengthening the normality and legal processes that bring about an enabling environment of a free media that would support the Independent Information Commission Act.