‘Relief’ for Liberian Journalists …As Free Legal Media Defense Center Launched

By: Oretha Bundoo Seh

Liberia: Relief has finally come for Liberian Journalists battling legal issues as a result of their role as watch dogs in Society, with the Launch of a media defense program.

At an elaborate event in Monrovia, Volunteers for Sustainable Development in Africa (VOSIEDA) in collaboration with Media Defense International, launched a new project to strengthen the capacity to defend independent media in Liberia.

Though it is a one-year initiative intended to provide free, high-quality legal assistance for independent media outlets, journalists, and bloggers in Liberia who lack the financial means to access legal support at commercial rates throughout the country, but it is key as the Country moves toward the 2023 general and Presidential elections.

Journalists experience series of brutality before,during and after elections, as such, the VOSIEDA project brings some relief.

According to VOSIEDA Program Development officer, Amanda Yarsiah, Legal protection is a priority for Liberian journalists, especially as Liberia undergoes a democratic transition. She emphasized that more journalists in Liberia face judicial harassment because of their independent reportage on issues affecting ordinary citizens.

The project’s overall goal is to enable independent media to hold power to account by reporting matters of public interest free from an abusive legal action.

Challenges of Freedom of speech and muscling of press free and media still exist in Liberia.

For VOSIEDA Team Lead H. Timothy Kortu, the project has two key results which include: the media defense center to be established at the Press Union of Liberia main Headquarters and will not only be for the project but a foundation that will be built for other media institutions and individuals to benefit in the future.

The other aspect according to Kortu, involves, seeking justice and redress for 20 existing cases of journalists who are victims of brutality and harassment.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Activist Adama Dempster lauded the group for initiative to protect and ensure justice for journalists during legal matters. Adama stressed that when the media is given a platform to be independent, impartial and honest; there will be a greater trust and confidence in their workings on a daily basis thus promoting good governance and democracy.
“No level of media work should undermine democracy”.

He appealed for an extension of the program beyond one year as stated by VOSIEDA, which he believes will alleviate some of the tension placed on the media to seek legal redress.
Secretary General of Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform appealed to VOSIEDA and Partners to extend the project beyond one year because there still be a need for said project beyond this regime.

For his part,Press Union of Liberia President, Charles Coffey, who launch the project, applauded VOSIEDA for the level of work been done in helping the PUL to track attacks against journalists by developing a technology app for journalists to inform the Union of any attacks.

Mr. Coffey indicated that attacks against journalists are undemocratic.

At the same, the Liberty Law Firm, one of the implementing Partners of the Media Defense Program, expressed delightment to support and promote journalists to access the law and ensure justice through legal proceedings.

A representative of the law firm, Atty. Michael Gebeh pointed out that there are other alternative and mitigating approaches used in solving issues arising outside the court to find amicable solutions in order to reduce the length of time for clients.

He pledged the firm’s commitment to ensuring the actualization of the project in protecting the rights of journalists by providing legal services.

The one-year project is funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor (DRL). The project will facilitate legal processes of 20 journalists desiring court proceedings but have no financial support.

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