The Press Union of Liberia has challenged the recently announced scheme by the Ministry of Information to resume the licensing of journalists in Liberia as a retrogressive effort that does not only undermine various pronouncements about a free press, but one which effectively rolls back efforts made by previous governments to make the media operating environment conducive.
In remarks at the Tuesday, September 30 MICAT press briefing, Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs Isaac Jackson said, “In accordance with chapter 31.8, D. of Liberia’s new executive law on the Act establishing the Ministry of Information, every journalist operating in the country is required to do an annual renewal of their permit during the second week of January.”
The MICAT statement was coincidentally made on Tuesday, September 30, as the Press Union of Liberia marked its 50th anniversary.
According to Minister Jackson, the Information Ministry “was provoked” to revive the law, which he referred to as “administrative measures”, following a publication of an August 2014 article in the National Chronicle newspaper which alleged that an interim government was being formed in the United States of America to overthrow the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. As a result of the article, the National Chronicle was shut-down by a squad of the Liberian National Police who also arrested and subjected its staff to interrogation.
In a statement issued Sunday, October 5, the Press Union said it “regrets that reversing this historic trend is not only regrettable, but a further betrayal of the trust and confidence that the Liberian people had placed in the government to promote human rights and democracy.”
The PUL recalled that Professors Lamini Waritay and Joe Mulbah, respectively Ministers of Information under the Interim Government of Dr. Amos Sawyer and during the Charles Taylor regime, entered into Memoranda of Understandings that permitted the Press Union of Liberia to accredit journalists in Liberia.
The Press Union recalled that as recently as her annual message on 27 January 2014, President Sirleaf told the Legislature that “Antiquated laws that retard the promotion of our fledgling democracy should be abolished,” and boasted that Liberia was “one of the first two African States that signed the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls for decriminalizing freedom of expression,” and promised to submit bills “to repeal all repressive laws as found in the statutes and in decrees of the PRC.”
The Press Union of Liberia reminded President Sirleaf that at the signing of the Declaration of the Table Mountain in 2012, she vowed to repeal criminal defamation laws loud and clear, and “… committed to advancing free press and free expression not just in Liberia but to use our leadership role to promote it on the entire continent of Africa.”
PUL President Abdullai Kamara said when the Information Ministry resumes conversations about permits for journalists, in the face of all of these commitments, it is prone to get reminded about a new array of intimidating questions targeted at newspapers and printing houses, reinforces the fears that prompted our September 4 letter to the Government, as well as calculated delays in approving 2014 licenses for The Independent Newspaper. All of these actions heighten our concerns that our democracy is slipping away from its acknowledged objectives.”
By bringing up these issues, “this government has not only failed to implement domestic and international promises, but is now undermining the free press, censoring the media, and slipping into attitudes that led the country to more than 14 years of brutal civil war that killed quarter of a million people,” Kamara observed.
Because of the retrogressive nature of this plan, the Press Union is inclined to admonish journalists to adopt a non-cooperative attitude as we seek further options. “No, Madam President, we disagree with any attempt by this government to subject citizens to seek permit and licenses to speak or write,” the PUL boss declared.