By: Rancy S. Teewia
The President of the Press Union of Liberia, Mr. Charles B. Coffey, Jr., has been clearing the air on a number of speculations and other salient issues confronting the Union including the PUL’s land situated on 14th street in Sinkor, the recent manhandling of Journalist Christopher Walker of the Front Page Africa Newspaper and OK FM Journalist Zenue Miller and the continuous disregard to professional standards and societal norms by Freedom FM Radio in Monrovia, stating categorically that the PUL’s real property it has not been taken away from the Union.
PUL Wasn’t Taken,
Mr. Coffey, addressing a news conference in Monrovia, started his media engagement by recounting that for sometimes now, the social media has been replete with the PUL’s land issue. It can be recalled that Facebook posts on the matter speculated that a judgement of default has been rendered against the PUL by the court thereby awarding the land to the adversary party due to failure by the Union to submit representation before the court whenever the case was called for hearing.
But the PUL president dismissed the claim on the social media and said although someone is claiming the land in question, the issue does not worth an in-depth comment as it is still pending before the civil law court.
“The PUL, through its lawyers, has responded to various precepts from the court. Because it is sub-juices, we will not go in-depth,” Mr. Coffey said, noting “As far we know PUL owns the land legitimately, it was purchased by our predecessors since the 90s, to be particular 1996 and probated 1997 when some of us were very young and were still in school learning journalism.”
According to Mr. Coffey, the land in question has not been taken away from the PUL. He explained that he was only providing this information because of the misinformation being spread about the land.
He blamed those he called “detractors” who he said do not want to see the media landscape of Liberia develop, and the PUL headquarters built. Coffey indicated that it is for this reason that ‘detractors’ are using all kinds of propaganda to discourage those wanting to help the PUL to build its headquarters, and therefore warning against the misuse of the internet.”
Coffey warns against the misuse of the internet because the Internet too has proven to be a much more democratic medium than newspapers or television, allowing a free exchange of views for a variety of social groups. “In many new democracies, civil society groups and NGOs have found the Internet an effective tool for disseminating information and opinion,” he further said.
The PUL President stated that the social media, like other forms of media, is one which can be used for positive and negative purposes. “The role it plays in sustaining democratic governance in Liberia is determined by the nature of information being shared or published on it for public consumption…, he said.
The PUL boss advised that users of the social media should endeavor to make sure that the information being shared is well researched, verified and truthful before it is placed in the public domain, adding that the impact of such information on the nascent democracy and extensively the Liberian society should be considered before pressing the button and publishing anything all in the name of freedom of speech.
Mistreatment of Journalists
Concerning the manhandling of FrontPageAfrica sports reporter Christopher walker and the beating of Zenue Miler of OK FM after the final match of the National County Meet by officers of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), Mr. Coffey indicates that the PUL has been fully informed of the manhandling of the journalists by the Sports Writers Association of Liberia (SWAL) and Mr. Christopher Walker. It was intimated to the Union, according to the Mr. Coffey that during the just ended National county meet semi-final matches at the SKD, the journalists were jostled.
Additional, the PUL president indicated that the Facebook and other social media displayed the manhandling, to which Mr. Walker provided detail information to the PUL Sunday about the incident. Like the PUL, Coffey said SWAL also condemned the act, which he described as “inhumane, and a complete violation of Mr. Walker’s fundamental rights.”
He pointed out that it is disheartening that a peaceful media worker was treated in an inhumane condition and stressed that such action has undermined the Memorandum of Understanding between PUL and Joint security, which is intended to ensure mutual respect for both the security and the journalists thus guaranteeing the safety and protection of media workers.
“Because of the severity of the police action, Mr. Walker lost some of his personal belongings, his camera and self-phone were damaged. His wallet containing 250 USD and one thousand LD was also missing,” Mr. Coffey asserted.
The PUL bosses noted that Walkers was fully accredited to cover all events of the county meet, and has been providing coverage of the rest of the matches at the same location on the football field where he was violently or forcibly removed and humiliated.
“We have communicated with relevant state’s institutions responsible including the Liberia National Police, the ministry of youth and sports to conduct speedy investigation and bring perpetrators to justice. We want the LNP professional standard division to investigate the PSU and other police officers who were seen humiliating Mr. Walker,” Mr. Coffey exclaimed, adding that “If found guilty, serious punitive action should be instituted against them to serve as a deterrent.
“The PUL takes seriously the safety of journalists and all media workers in the country. The attacks in recent times against journalists by some security personnel are reaching an alarming proportion that requires timely intervention of the Liberian government,” he maintained. He lamented that it is becoming uncontrollable as such authorities of various state securities, particularly justice ministry must act now.
Coffey spoke of the attacks on the FrontPageAfrica reporter, and another incident on the night of Jan 26 at the SKD involving journalist Zenue Miller of Ok FM radio. He highlighted Mr. Miller complaint to the PUL on Monday that after the game at the SKD, he was leaving when he was asked by EPS authority to stop near the right to play. Being cognizant of VIP activities, Millar said he stopped just to discover that some EPS personnel came and beat him. He is currently facing severe pain and undergoing medical treatment, Mr. Coffey explained.
A fourth incident with the police involving journalist Bryant Dioh occurred in Sinoe while in route to Maryland County, where the police again manhandled him, Coffey said, emphasizing that these attacks ate profiling Liberia negatively in a very short period of time, describing the occurrences as “very wrong” while calling for corrective measures to safe the image and sanity of the state.
“Uncultured and Disgusting”
The PUL also addressed itself to what is said to be unprofessional conduct of the Freedom FM’s Unprofessional Conduct. “On Wednesday January 22 and Thursday January 23, 2020, and up to present, Freedom FM Radio continue to disregard professional journalistic standards and societal norms. In particular, reference [is made] to the station’s Wednesday, January 22 and Thursday 2, 2020 morning broadcasts during which it rained invectives on Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, the PUL president indicate.
Mr. Coffey said these broadcasts were “uncultured and disgusting” and added that the station’s broadcast has the propensity to undercut the gains Liberia has made in ensuring media freedom, noting that such broadcasts of that nature are ‘unacceptable’.
The leadership of the Press Union of Liberia considers that the Freedom FM Radio Station is establishing itself as a symbol of hate and instigation of instability in the country, and reiterated that the spreading of insult-laden broadcasts by Freedom FM against top leaders of Liberia runs contrary to all qualities of civil democratic discourses.
The PUL is again has called on the Justice Ministry to act, so as to save the state, believing that the Justice Ministry’s continuous silence, perhaps, indicate a high level of support for the Freedom FM radio, since the station is believed to be owned by Deputy NSA Director Sam Siryon, who is under the Justice Ministry.
Last year, the PUL recalled that it communicated with the Justice Ministry about the same Freedom FM, and expressed concern on the conduct of the Freedom FM because the media are sometimes used as proxies in the battle between rival political groups, thereby sowing divisiveness in the process rather than consensus, hate speech instead of sober debate.
“The media can provide warring groups mechanisms for mediation, representation and voice so they can settle their differences peacefully,” Coffey noted, saying unfortunately however that some of the media have sometimes fanned the flames of discord by taking sides, reinforcing prejudices, muddling the facts and peddling half-truths.
“Peace journalism,” endeavors to promote reconciliation through careful reportage that gives voice to all sides of a conflict and resists explanation for violence in terms of innate enmities, Coffey said. .
He called on all stakeholders including members of the media to resist this type of unethical journalism, cautioning that doing nothing to change the situation will render all lovers of democracy complacent with the inciting and unruly content of Freedom FM.