The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) in conjunction with its partners, including Internews, has established a working group and clothed it with the authority to seek legislation to repeal criminal defamation and sedition laws against the media.
Decriminalization of these laws is in consonance with the Table Mountain Declaration signed by President Sirleaf a few years ago.
The working group comprises government institutions, civil society organizations, media partners, the media and academia.
Government ministries to work with the group include Ministries of Justice and Information while the National Bar Association, Law Reform Commission, Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), and other civil society organizations are to be represented.
The Press Union of Liberia, Association of Liberia Community Radios (ALICOR), Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding, and the Liberia Media Center (LMC) are also on the working group.
The establishment follows a two-day media conference organized by the Press Union with support from Internews and Albany aimed at discussing the “Media and the Law,” and drafting of regulations to govern media houses and journalists.
The PUL working group, according to a decision reached yesterday, will on Monday, May 16, draft letters to institutions involved to attend the first acquaintance meeting on Friday, May 20.
Participants in the discussion concurred that the issue was very urgent and of necessity, so much so that the group needs to begin work soon, considering crucial events, including the 2017 elections.
Speaking following the consensus, the Chief of Party of Internews, Dr. Henri Paul Bola said it is about time that the media law regulations were implemented.
He said his institution and USAID are here to assist professionally and to ensure sustainability of the media.
He added that they are here to support the media in achieving its goals and it was up to stakeholders to get them to do what they can for sustainability.
Also speaking at the close of the conference, PUL President Abdullai Kamara said as the media advocates for freedom of speech and expression, it is also important to use freedom of speech professionally.
Mr. Kamara said there is no way the media can be eroded from the transitional democratic processes of Liberia, and gathering to discuss its landscape was an important event in maintaining peace and democracy in the country.
He said as the media pushes for decriminalization of those laws detrimental to journalists and media institutions, the government, too, is concerned about regulations that will govern journalists and media houses.
The media, he said, has to therefore accept this concern and work at it in order to have a professional output that will be in the interest of peace in the country.
He commended President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for turning out to give a keynote speech at the beginning of the conference.
Mr. Kamara said the President’s action to respond to the media was a remarkable milestone, since she had some contentious issues with the media recently.
Meanwhile, President Sirleaf in her speech on May 10 at the opening of the conference urged the media to, instead of criticizing join government to push for the passage of bills before the Legislature.
She also told the media that as it embarks with government to decriminalize criminal defamation and sedition laws, it must also contemplate on setting up a regulatory body to govern the media to ensure the practice of good journalism that will put the country above self.
President Sirleaf noted that most radio stations and newspapers have emerged and are blackmailing people and even violating Liberia’s laws by being unregistered and non tax compliant.