— Calls for responsible reportage…
Finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel Tweah has assured media houses that the government will shortly settle liabilities it owes them in order to help pay their staffs.
The government is the biggest client patron for the media in Liberia since the departure of the UN Mission in Liberia, and it owes media houses thousands of United States. Most media institutions as a result of the debt owed by the government are unable to pay salaries to their staffs this festive season, thereby leaving workers in grief and frustration.
At the induction ceremony of the Press Union promised to settle all financial obligations it dues the Liberian Media.
Minister Tweah who served as a keynote speaker during the induction of the new corps of officers of the Press Union of Liberia, informed the gathering that they as a government have decided to settle all their obligations by paying those media institutions before the New Year.
Stressing on media obligation of reporting information, Tweah in his keynote address over the weekend said the government does not expect any favorable reportage from media but responsible coverage.
“The government does not need favorable treatment or coverage from media institutions but only demands and expects accountable and responsible news coverage,” he said.
Expressing the government’s commitment to press freedom, Minister Tweah noted that the President passed the Kamara Abdullah Kamara free Speech Act which abolishes the criminalization of free speech on counts such as sedition, criminal malevolence and criminal libel against the President of the Republic.
He said “Speech is now a civil offense. Beyond these legal constructs, the Weah administration prides itself on the protection of the fundamental rights of Liberians, including the rights to assembly and free speech,” Minister Tweah said, noting, “Just as journalists must be accountable for their reporting, citizens must be held responsible for the consequence of their speech.”
Tweah stressed that the understanding of definitions of freedom does not have constitutional coverage under the Liberian law.
Although this is not the first time such promises are being made, this recent one was made at a media gathering where past and current Press Union of Liberia (PUL) leaders were in attendance.
In his inaugural address, PUL President Charles Coffey said the dream of the newly inducted leadership is to continue to make the PUL the most authentic, trustworthy, dependable, true, reliable accurate and faithful voice of the media by setting and implementing high ethical or professional standards, and enforcing the union’s code of conduct and constitution while ensuring cordial working relationship with the government, civil society organizations, and partners in progress.
Coffey said during his last tenure, his administration will ensure that the PUL’s dignity and credibility will prove resistant to all actions capable of undermining the image of the union.
He assured PUL members of transparency and accountability of the leadership and pledged the adoption of measures to ensure that equal rights and opportunity for all journalists.
Mark N. Mengonfia, Secretary General-elect of the Reporters Association of Liberia who proxied for both the outgoing and incoming leadership, praised the government for its decision to settle obligations to media houses.
He said” I am not here to talk long, but to speak to two issues quickly. The PUL president spoke of collective bargaining and the Finance Minister also talked about paying media debts. Thanks for the pronouncement that you are paying media owners so they can pay us, the reporters adding the collective bargaining the PUL president spoke of must be implemented to better our lives.”
Mr. Alphonso Toweh, a representative of the publishers Association of Liberia, said the government’s reneging on its obligations to pay debts owed to media institutions is total strangulation, something he said is impeding their businesses.
He, like other speakers, welcomed the Liberian government’s pronouncement and prayed that payment of arrears owed to media institutions will serve to ease the tension they as media owners are facing.
Former Press Union of Liberia President, Peter Quaqua expressed the need for the newly inducted leaders headed by Coffey to endeavor as much as possible to reconcile the union noting that in the absence of reconciliation the Union’s image would be distorted.
He also recommended a mini-convention of the media wherein they will have a modification of their constitution which currently disallows Public Relations Officers (PROs) to vote in the PUL’s elections.