–says journalism is not a crime
The president of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Charles B. Coffey, Jr., has called on the African Union, Economic Community of the West African States and the United Nations to prevail on African governments to guarantee the protection and safety of journalists and media workers, indicating that journalism is not a crime.
Coffey said over the past decades, the media in Africa has been characterized by various negative factors that have continued to impede its progress.
According to Coffey, most African governments have adopted obnoxious media legislations to ensure that they suppress the independent press, which includes contemptible registration and licensing fees, antiquated or obsolete defamation laws that imprisoned journalists for their work, coupled with forceful arrest and detention of Journalists without trial in many of the countries.
“In other African countries including Sudan, some Journalists continued to receive death threats, face intimidation and harassment; arbitrary arrest and detention; others are severely beaten, tortured; while media houses are relentlessly raided by security agents with publications and media equipment seized and destroyed. On the other hand, the public media in the continent continued to be monopolized by ruling governments and in most cases are used as propaganda machineries,” PUL Coffey said.
Coffey further added that, “in relation to these negative laws, the African media is also confronted with impunity. Over the last ten years the continent has witnessed the brutal killing of a significant number of some of its best journalists. The common denominator behind all these killings is that the perpetrators of these terrible speaking crimes are still at large.”
The PUL president made these statement yesterday in Tubmanburg, Bomi County during PUL’s 56th Anniversary celebration held under the theme: Impartial Journalism contributes to Flourishing Democracy: Why Stay Independent?”
The Reporters without Borders (RSF) in a recent report said, 102 journalists have been killed on the continent over the past 10 years, half of them in Somalia (up to one at 163rd). Somalia remains the most dangerous country for reporters despite significant progress towards punishing police officers and military personnel who commit violence against media workers.
RSF said Journalists’ safety remains a major issue and requires greater legal protection. In this respect, the abolition of custodial sentences imposed on journalists for carrying out their work remains unfinished business.
The PUL President Further explained that Liberia has made significant step toward in ensuring press freedom and freedom of expression.
In this regard, the PUL President said “PUL is using this occasion to recognize and hail the Liberian government, particularly the George Weah administration, for repealing some of the negative media laws on the books.”
“We also hail former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whose administration launched the campaign for media freedom. All of the efforts are in fulfillment of the Liberian constitution which guarantees for all citizens the rights to free speech and the freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof,” Coffey said.
Coffey added: “consistent with constitutional guarantee to free speech, the right to opinions without interference and the right to knowledge and information, the Liberian government during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Administration enacted the freedom of Information Law (FOI) and established the Freedom of Information Commission.”
He said in demonstration of the government’s commitment to upholding freedom of speech and expression, on July 2, 2012, the Liberian government, headed by President Sirleaf, signed the Table Mountain Declaration which, among other things, required that African states must recognize the indivisibility of press freedom.
Mr. Coffey called on President Weah and government to reinforce safety measures to fully guarantee the safety and protection of journalists, if the gains made are to be irreversible.
In Recent times, Mr. Coffey said, particularly between the months of January to September 2020, dozens of journalists were attacked by some elements of the state security and some citizens.
“The attacks, detention, intimidation and brutality meted against these media practitioners have become unprecedented with seven journalists being attacked just in two weeks and ten attacked in three months across the country. The PUL considers these attacks, detentions, intimidation and brutality against the media personnel as deliberate attempts to force journalists into self-censorship and deny the public of credible, balanced and accurate information,” Coffey added.
The PUL boss further said that they have continued to vehemently condemn these alleged barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms and has been persistently calling on government to conduct credible and independent investigation into these attacks.”
He said in response to the PUL request, which was presented to the Liberian government through a petition, a special presidential investigative committee was set up by government to probe the matter and provide findings within two weeks at the time.
“Since February of this year, the committee chaired by former Information Minister Dr. Lawrence K Bropleh is yet to conclude the investigation and release findings. The PUL is seriously concerned about the committee’s delay, reaching a logical conclusion on this matter. Therefore, we are calling on the government to conclude the investigation, so we can determine the next course of action and understand the factors responsible for the unfortunate situation, thereby moving our country forward,” Coffey said.