The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has fined the Nation Times Newspaper LD2,500 for “ethical breach” and requested its Publisher, Octavin Williams, to apologize and retract a misleading headline against Vice President Joseph Boakai in a story published on April 8, 2015.
The decision was recommended by the PUL’s Grievance and Ethics Committee and endorsed by the Union’s Executive Committee, following investigations into a complaint filed by the Liberian Government, through the Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT).
MICAT on April 8, filed a letter of complaint to the PUL, claiming “unethical reporting” by the Nation Times, after the paper carried a front page lead titled, “VP BOAKAI IN CORRUPTION ACT— Over $68 Million Disappears In Thin Air.”
During investigations, the Grievance and Ethics Committee found that the Nation Times wrongly phrased the headline of its April 8, front page lead story. The selection to coin the headline in such a definitive fashion was a lapse in news judgment, making it appear as though Vice President Joseph Boakai and his office had already been convicted of corruption.
Article 11 of the PUL Code of Conduct and Ethics denounces the use of misleading headlines when it states: “The journalist should not engage in negative journalism, misleading headlines and fabrications. Newspapers should be fully warranted by the contents of the articles they accompany. Photographs should give an accurate picture of an event and not highlight an event out of context.”
Investigations show that the Vice President has neither been forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for investigation nor did he appear in court for any judicial action in connection with the report.
The Committee’s report, however, noted that despite the professional breach, the Nation Times story reflected the various voices, including a reaction from the Vice President’s Chief of Office Staff, Sam Stevequoah, in reporting details of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) report.
The PUL said while it remains committed to advocating for greater press freedom and social justice, it will not relent in cautioning and penalizing its members and other journalists, who slip away from the ethical path of professional journalism, according to a release signed by PUL Secretary General D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh yesterday.