Attorney Patrice P. Weah last Friday reminded judges and lawyers, including justices of the Supreme Court that they should not view the media as rivals, but instead as advocates of truth.
Atty. Weah, who is an executive of Internews, an international non-government organization in the justice sector, said instead of viewing the media as an adversary, the justice system should acknowledge the essential role the media plays in informing the public of legal developments.
Weah made the assertion when he delivered a message at the Law Day Celebration, organized by the Liberia National Bar Association (INBA).
The occasion was held under the Theme: “The Media and the Courts; Advocates of the Truth, Not Adversaries,” and was held at the Temple of Justice.
Weah said: “This does not mean that judges or lawyers should condone distortion, inaccuracy and settle down for sensationalized mediocrity.”
On the contrary, he said “Judges and lawyers should promote dialogue with members of the media to ensure that reporting is accurate, prompt and appropriately complete.”
During this, he advised that “the court can endeavor to engender trust and help journalists do a better job.”
According to Weah, a functional democracy that will foster Liberia’s sustainable growth and development will depend on the “unshakable, moral compass and the thoughtfulness and candor of both the media and the court as advocates of the truth.”
Weah also said the media needs the court, if only for the simple reason that the court is the final arbiter of the constitutional rights of all, of which the media is a component.
He said the media and the courts are locked in a mutually exclusive engagement, but sometimes, with uncomfortable embrace.
“Both need each other, their interests are interwoven,” he told the gathering.
Making comparisons between the media and the courts, Weah observed that, “Both have but one choice for what is at stake so that nothing less than making Liberia to leap from over decades of stagnation and look into the future with hope and confidence.”
In recommendation to the judiciary, Weah suggested that there must also be structural education of the public generally about the justice system and what judges do.
“One must ensure that the public had access to justice,” he added, “But, fundamental to maintaining and building confidence in the judiciary is publicizing what judges do.”
He noted that publicity is the very soul of justice and the surest of all the guards against improbity.
He reminded his audience that only through the efforts of the media will the vast majority of the people be informed of proceedings before the court and their judgments.
“When the court posts its opinion on its own website, both the justices and citizens still depend on journalists to get the word out to a broader spectrum of the public.
“It is still reporters who immediately read and often grapple with the challenging legal language and make sense of it for lay understanding,” said Weah.
“Understandably,” Weah emphasized, “the duty and right to report includes the right to disagree and criticize that are part of the democratic process.”
“We should ask ourselves what we can do to encourage media coverage that presents an accurate and fair picture of what happens in the court, not excluding informed criticism, and as a result enhancing public confidence in the administration of justice,” Weah said.
He noted that “restricting access to information and controlling how it may be presented, leads the public to infer that the justice system has something to hide.”
However, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor among other legal practitioners, who spoke at the ceremony, said there is no conflict between the courts and the media.