By Omari Jackson
“The greatest threat to freedom of the press in Liberia is the failure of journalists to be ethical in the discharge of their responsibilities,” Information Minister Eugene Nagbe told journalists on Friday.
Inducting officers of the Sports Writers Association of Liberia at the YMCA conference room in Monrovia, Minister Nagbe refuted claims that the recent arrest of New Democrat’s editor Festus Poquie for publishing a “reckless report and libelous unbalanced story against President
Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea without verifying the report” is a threat to freedom of the press in Liberia.
Mr. Poquie was released after four hours following interventions by the Press Union of Liberia and others.
In its reaction, the Press Union of Liberia said it was unfortunate that the government would violate the rights of a journalist without due process rights.
Another reaction came from human rights lawyer Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, representing Poquie and expressing surprise that the democratically elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf would have a Liberian journalist arrested over an article written about a dictatorial leader from another African country. According to Gongloe, the action against Poquie suggested that Mrs. Sirleaf supports what is happening in Equatorial Guinea.
Cllr. Gongloe recounted the Table Mountain Declaration signed by President Sirleaf a few years ago to repeal criminal defamation laws against journalists.
Minister Nagbe, in an angry tone, lashed out at Cllr. Gongloe and the Press Union of Liberia for their failure to recognize the government’s determination to ensure that balanced reporting becomes the norm.
In rather crass commentary, the Minister questioned Cllr. Gongloe’s performance few years ago in the Sirleaf Administration as the Solicitor General of Liberia and as Minister of Labor, noting that “when people are out of office, then they become the government’s worst critics.”
Minister Nagbe described the human rights lawyer’s performance in those positions as “feecee”.
He also accused the PUL of inaction when many prominent people are insulted over the airwaves, saying that the government was disappointed that the PUL did not examine issues of national interest before issuing out rebuttals and condemning the government for its actions.
With references to the closure of Voice FM, Minister Nagbe said every radio station in the country registers with the appropriate government agency and therefore any media institution that refuses to register as provided by law would not be tolerated.
“Is it fair for one radio station to register and another refuses to register?” he asked. “It is regrettable that blanket condemnations of the government’s action come from the PUL and others whose duties are to ensure that the right thing is done. The government will do what is right and leave it to posterity to judge.”
PUL President Kamara Abdullai Kamara did not give a direct response to the Minister’s remarks, but said democracy needs a media that is free of interference.
He described the role of the media in the country in the wake of the 2017 presidential and legislative elections as crucial. “It is crucial that the media is not molested and shut down,” he stated.
He agreed with Minister Nagbe that it is good for journalists to work based on their ethics, but noted that when radio stations are shut down those who oppose the government gain ground to cause trouble.
“We need to do better,” Kamara said, “if we tolerate and encourage each other we will do better together.” He said shutting down media institutions is no way to promote democracy.