By: Laymah Kollie
Monrovia-June 15,2023: The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), in partnership with the Media Foundation for West Africa with support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands on June 14,2023 conducted a National Forum on Media Professionalism and Safety of Journalists in Liberia.
The forum highlighted safety of journalists during reportage, Increase awareness among stakeholders about journalists’ safety and protection and stakeholders’ commitment to nurture a safe environment for media practice while contributing to democratic governance and development.
CEMESP national forum forms part of its activities being implemented under the Enhancing Press Freedom, Women’s Digital Rights and Accountable Governance in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone project supported by the Dutch Foreign Ministry (through the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ghana).
At the start of the forum, CEMESP Executive Director, Mr. Malcolm W. Joseph, outlined reports of Liberian Security apparatus past and current harassments, brutality, assaults and detentions committed against Journalists while on reportorial duties as major reasons for the hosting of the national forum.
CEMESP boss highlighted cases of Journalist Aryee Davis and Salam Kaloko whom were harassed and beaten on March 3,2020 by personnel’s of the Executive Protection Services (EPS), Journalist Methuselah Gaye that was arrested and detained for twelve (12) hours by Police Apparatus in Rive rcess County on 13th February 2020, Journalist Zenu Miller who died three weeks following allege assault on him by members of the EPS in 2020 amongst others.
“On March 4, 2020, at about 8 p.m. Benjamin Quaye Johnson, a reporter with the privately owned Cyclone Newspaper, was detained by officers of the Executive Protection Service in the township of Gardnersville, while he was reporting on the alleged shooting of a woman by an EPS Officer. He was held overnight. State security forces also assaulted or detained three other journalists in connection to their work in the same year, 2020. The journalists were Christopher Walker, an editor with Front Page Africa newspaper, Kolubah Akoi, a reporter with the local broadcaster Radio Kintoma in Lofa County, and Zenu Miller of OK FM. Zenu who died three weeks following the alleged assault on him by members of the EPS. In light of these negative developments against members of the fourth estate, especially while going about their professional duties, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), on March 12, 2020, staged a protest at government offices in Monrovia and handed over their petition registering the union’s concern over increased attacks against journalists. Against this background, the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), in partnership with the Media Foundation for West Africa has organized this Forum on Media Professionalism and Safety of Journalists in Liberia”, Mr. Joseph averred.
He believes these incidents are contributing to low media professionalism standards and disregards to journalistic ethics which have resulted to limited public trust and confidence in the Liberian media.
“Coupled with this negative development is also the growing concerns of the lowering media professionalism standards and disregard for ethics in the media in recent times. The falling standards in media professionalism have resulted in waning public trust and confidence in the media.
These incidents and many others raise safety of journalists’ concerns. The media, through its agenda setting capacity and watchdog role, are expected to hold duty bearers to the principle of transparency and accountability in governance and in public service. This requires a conducive environment where journalists operate with their freedoms and safety guaranteed and assured”.
CEMESP Executive Director further acknowledged government’s effort in protecting press freedom and strengthening foundational principles that guarantee the rights to exercise freedom of speech in Liberia.
“The Liberian Government has shown some support toward media freedom, by strengthening support for provision of foundational principles that guarantee the rights to exercise freedom of speech in a form and manner consistent with international best practices.
In 2018, as a part of improving the legal and regulatory environment for freedom of expression, the government repealed the law on sedition and defamation. Furthermore, in 2010 the government adopted the Freedom of Information Law and the establishment of the Independent Information Commission. In September, 2022, Liberia was ranked 75/180 on the World Press Index, an improvement from 2021, when it ranked 98/180”.
However, Senate Chair Information and Broadcasting Senator Jonathan BoyCharles Sogbie, who served as keynote speaker cautioned media practitioners to exercise responsibility in their reportage. Senator Sogbie emphasized that journalists play key roles in ensuring a sustained democracy, as such, they should responsively report during and after these elections period.
“I urge you to report responsively, We are gearing elections, the next four months will be tends the manner in which you do your reporting is what our people will take. This is a very key role you have chosen to play”.
Furthermore, Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism Director of Press and Public Affairs, Lawrence Fahnbulleh, reaffirmed government’s commitment to supporting journalists rights and freedom of speech in Liberia.
“I can assure u that the government and the media have a very cordial relationship. The government upholds press freedom. As we get closer to the elections, I want to assure you that the government will ensure journalist safety”.
Also, remarking at the forum the Police Spokesperson Mr. Moses Carter assured CEMESP and partners of the police support to media practitioners in the Country.
Mr. Carter admonished journalists to seek his office for intervention in any journalist brutality with assurance of addressing their plights.
“While I sit as PR of the police, any journalist who has issue of abuse I will go for the issue. The privilege to be in these positions, we are not going to be there forever, when you have the chance to serve do your best Safety starts with yourself, how you carry yourself determine whether you will be safe or not. You can make Liberia to remain peaceful as a journalist and you can break Liberia in no time. Let’s engage these processes intellectually”.
For his part, Press Union of Liberia Vice President Mr. Daniel Nyankonah, applauded CEMESP for the initiative and pledged the Union’s support to the process. “Thanks to CEMESP for the initiative and we will continue to shower our support. For radio stations in the act of unprofessionalism, we will continue to name and shame them. We have our eyes on them”.
Meanwhile, participants of the national forum also appreciated CEMESP for the efforts applied in achieving freedom of speech and journalists professionalism. Media practitioners were drawn from print, electronic and online.
The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP) is a leading media development and freedom of expression advocacy organization with its primary objectives to strengthen the work of journalists and media managers thereby enhancing a free environment for the media in Liberia to thrive.