Saying the media is a double edged sword, the PUL boss noted the media to be a rightful weapon of violence when it propagates messages of intolerance or disinformation that manipulates public sentiment while pointing out that the media can also be used as an instrument of the propagation of true messages for citizens to make an informed decision and choices, when the information it represents is reliable, respects human rights and represents diverse views.
The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has vehemently condemned in the strongest possible terms the closure of Voice of Pleebo by the Pleebo City Mayor and called on the city mayor and invisible hands empowering him to stop harassing, intimidating and molesting the media in Maryland county.
Delivering his World Press Freedom Day Message in Grand Kru County on May 2, 20201, Press Union President Charles Coffee upheld that a media that is used as an instrument of the propagation of true messages for citizens to make an informed decision and choices, represents information that it is reliable, respects human rights and represents diverse views.
He maintained that the latter is the kind of the media that enables a society to make well informed choices which is a precursor of democracy. Public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of journalists is to foster those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty, Mr. Coffee outlined.
“If the media reports propaganda and is one sided, that same media may also fuel tension and provoke conflict. It can be an instrument of conflict resolution, when the information it represents is reliable, represents human rights, security policy, and represents diverse views,” he said, emphasizing, “It is the kind of media that enables a society to make well-informed choices that reduces conflict and fosters human rights and justice.”
Accordingly, Coffee said the media can reinforce and change the attitudes of the masses towards the state if it reports issues of inclusiveness, thereby igniting unity, and tolerance and therefore becomes a useful tool in conflict resolution.
“A media which is controlled by personnel who apply professional ethics combined with national ownership and diverse access to information can contribute to societal reconciliation, alter misperception and broaden understanding of causes and consequences of conflicts,” he reasoned, advising journalists not to focus on political issues alone, but issues that are also affecting the ordinary people.
Talking about press freedom, Coffee frowned on the closure of the Voice of Pleebo in Maryland County by the Pleebo City Mayor, Accordingly he said the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has vehemently condemned in the strongest possible terms the closure of Voice of Pleebo by the Pleebo City Mayor and called on the city mayor and invisible hands empowering him to stop harassing, intimidating and molesting the media in Maryland county.
The President of the PUL, Mr. Charles Coffee, who said this in his World Press Freedom Day address in Grand Kru County recalled that the Ministry of Information, Culture & Tourism (MICAT) in recent times intervened in a situation involving the Voice of Pleebo in Pleebo City, Maryland County and the Mayor of Pleebo when the Pleebo City mayor ordered the closure of the station and threatened staff of the entity.
Coffee said the Union raised the issues through its coordinator, Bryant Dioh, first and later gravitated it to the national level where the information Ministry and PUL immediately held a joint meeting to find an amicable solution. “First the ministry ordered that the station be opened and that was followed by an investigation involving PUL, Internal Affairs and MICAT,” Mr. Coffee disclosed.
Findings of the investigation, he said, revealed that the mayor was wrong and that he has no jurisdiction over the media and was cautioned against such an act, saying that details of the findings are made public.
He said the George Weah government has always said it believes in Press Freedom and freedom of expression, evident being the repeal of anti-free speech laws, even though the Voice of Pleebo is down because of the way the mayor closed the station at the time.
“So Voice of Pleebo needs assistance to resume broadcast. It was recommended that the county authority restore damaged equipment but to no avail,” the PUL president further disclosed.
He said what is appalling is that the mayor continues to intimidate and threaten the media workers, which he noted are some of the factors used as indicators by the international community to determine a country’s action against the media.
“The mayor’s continued harassment of the media in Maryland County is negatively profiling our country. He needs to listen to the information sector of government responsible for media matters and understand that internal affairs ministry does not run the information sector of the country, the Union warned
Mr. Coffee however said the issue of press freedom In Liberia has improved significantly, but there are still obstacles to fostering press freedom and freedom of expression. These obstacles, he pointed out, include tensions and sometimes confrontational interaction between security forces and journalists indicating that one of the major sources of tension occurs when journalists are trying to access information, for instance, the security can doubt the legitimacy of the journalists’ sources, whereas journalists often find information from security limited or not delivered in time for their deadline.
“Now, at that point, there is a discrepancy between journalists’ need for information and the ability of security forces to provide them with the necessary kind of information and authorization,” he said, and added that any measure the state takes, which limits freedom of the press either directly or indirectly are prima facie interferences with the right of the media.
He sees it important for both the security and the media to respect each other. He also disclosed that a Memorandum of Understanding signed a few years back because it defines the ways in which they must treat each other, citizen’s right to freedom of expression.
Coffee said in a climate where journalists are safe, citizens find it easier to access quality information and many objectives become possible. “We are optimistic that together we can foster peace, security and national development, if only we respect the rule of law. The gains we have made as a country in fostering press freedom and freedom of expressions are irreversible,” he asserted.
The Union’s leader called on people of the world including the African Union, African Institutions, and government to embrace ‘’Information as Public Good’’ in order to protect journalists and empower the media in their mission of reporting for development. The PUL also called on media enterprises and governments to put in place measures to mitigate the effects of covid-19 on journalists as part of sustaining support for press freedom.
The PUL President also called on all journalists and media workers to take the lead in the COVID-19 vaccination process, saying that the Union is collaborating with the Health Ministry to make sure that all journalists take the vaccine.
Besides taking the vaccines, the PUL Mr. Coffee said his leadership has urged all media institutions and practitioners to sensitize Liberians and all within the territorial confines of Liberia country to take the vaccines so together Liberians can defeat this common enemy, the covid-19. “This sickness is destroying the entire world, so everyone is concerned and striving to eliminate it,” he advised
Commenting on professionalism, Coffee indicated that there is global proliferation of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda and hate speeches, and added that trust in media and other institutions is plummeting, stressing that this shared global crisis that will only grow in magnitude as the next three billion people come online.
“While the flow of digital advertising revenue is steadily increasing, little is making its way to the media institutions who employ journalist and create original news content; according to Mr. Coffee who further said while some global news companies have built strong digital advertising infrastructures, the vast majority of smaller and local media organizations do not have the skills or technical knowledge to participate in these fast-moving markets, dominated by increasingly consolidated digital platforms.
The constitution, he said, guarantees for all citizens the rights to free speech and the freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof, saying that consistent with constitutional guarantee to free speech, the right to opinions without interference and the right to knowledge and information, the government has enacted the freedom of Information Law and established the freedom of Information Commission and decriminalized free speech.
Meanwhile, Mr. Coffee said leadership of the Publisher Association through its Vice President Sam Dean has informed the Press Union of Liberia that veteran journalist Philip Wesseh is gradually responding to health at the American Hospital in Accra, Ghana.
Mr. Wesseh has been accompanied by the President of the publisher Association Othello Gabla and was taken to Ghana under a critical condition but his condition is improving. “We command the Liberian government particularly President George Weah for intervening by underwriting Mr. Wesseh medical bill. This level of assistance is a clear indication of the government’s willingness to seek the health needs of its citizens inclusive of the media which is the fourth estate,” Mr. Coffee said.
Reporting about deaths in the Union, the PUL President said the union has lost a very illustrious media practitioner and has personally lost a sister, a brother, a friend and technocrat, Janet Johnson and Edward Wanna.
“Their passing is a huge loss to the Liberian media and Liberia at large as Janet and Edward lived their lives with purpose as they stayed focused. ‘’People like Janet and Edward do not just die and they never died, they have just departed for higher responsibilities. I would like to believe that our two journalists are in a better place now and geared up for the next challenging quests wherever they are,” he concluded.