Notwithstanding the controversy that marred his selection as the Keynote Speaker during the assembly of Liberian journalists celebrating the World Press Freedom Day in the Southeastern city of Fish Town in River Gee County, Monrovia Lord Mayor Jefferson Koijee delivered a heavily passionate, moving speech on May 3. He paid tribute to several media practitioners, past and present, dead and alive, for their outstanding contributions to media development and freedom in Liberia and told his own story with affinity to the struggle for rights and rice in the country. As The Analyst reports, the youthful City Mayor did not forget to tell the success stories in the Liberian media environment under the George Weah administration.
This year’s major speaker at the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Liberia has copiously acknowledged the role Liberian journalists have played over the years to protect rights and freedoms of citizens and ensure social, economic and cultural development.
The City Major of Monrovia, Jefferson T. Koijee specifically referenced “Veteran Liberian journalists such as Kenneth Y. Best, Philip N. Wesseh, Weadeh Kobbah- Wureh, Massa Washington, Aaron Kollie, Frank Sainwola, Kwame Clement, Abraham Massalay, and Peter Quaqua among others whose roles and contributions to free press, media pluralism and democracy in Liberia remain a mark of distinction, greatness and an example that is worth emulating”.
He also recognized the invaluable contributions of fallen Liberian journalists Albert Porte, Charles Gbehyon, Professor Alhaji G. V. Kromah, Bill Frank Enoanyi, Professor Joe Mulbah, Tom Kamara, Victoria Christopher, Tommy Raynes, T. Lawrence Randall, Kamara Abdullah Kamara, Yede Allison, Janet Johnson and “the legions of other journalists whose physical absence our country continues to mourn. May their souls and the souls of all those departed continue to rest in peace and may light perpetual shine on them”.
While recognizing the valuable strides of journalists in the promotion of political pluralism and civil liberties in Liberia, he youthful official of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change recounted his own contributions made and the challenges and bruises he incurred yesteryears.
He reflected: “I remembered how in August 2009 alongside other student leaders, I was arrested, jailed and physically abused for advocating for the full implementation of the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Report; how in 2011 the late Comrade Vallai Dorley, others and I were arrested and jailed for peacefully calling for the release of journalist Rodney Sieh of the Frontpage Africa Newspaper. The court had convicted Mr. Sieh and Mr. Fallah and ordered them to pay a total of US$1.5 million in damages and US$90,000 in court cost. This was a deliberate ploy to shut down the Newspaper.”
He also recalled days as national youth and student activist, from high school as the President of the National High School Student Union (NIHISSUL) in 2004 working with the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) to bring government and public school students together in a peaceful dialogue ending student-against-student riot, the Secretary General of the National Student Intellectual Council (NASICOL, the Montserrado County Coordinator of the Federation of Liberia Youth (FLY) and eventually the Chairman of the youth wing of the Mighty Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).
“As I reflected, on these experiences and many others, I became ever more humbled and grateful to God for life and that PUL would choose me to serve as your Guest Speaker on the occasion marking the 2022 Celebration of World Press Freedom Day in the City of Fish Town, River Gee County. Coming to Fish Town is a genuine extension of your outreach initiatives to the nukes and crannies of our only country, Liberia,” Mr. Koijee.
Sharing his perspective on the theme, “Journalism Under Digital Siege”, he boasted that under the free and open administration of His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, access to online services are not monitored and this has contributed to the flourishing of media freedom in our digital environment.
He stressed that Liberia should invest more in e-Government, internet-based technologies and application in order to help bolster the free flow of information, freedom of expression and the protection of civil liberties, which will ensure that public sector information is made widely available with no hindrance, bureaucracy or bottlenecks.
“While the government has the constitutional responsibility to ensure unbiased and unlimited implementation of the Freedom of Information Act,” Mayor Koijee said, “citizens, too, are under obligation to hold the government and key decision-makers to account, promote good governance and improve public policy and efficiency among others.
“We must also invest the needed resources required for a more extensive outreach on the Citizens Guide to the Freedom of Information Act in order to provide a broader sense of belonging to the citizens to know how much right of access they have to information and what appropriate thing(s) citizens can do if they are prevented and denied such access.”
According to him, the leadership of President George Manneh Weah has demonstrated unbridled political will to ensure that journalists and media practitioners are free to speak their minds at all times, on digital platforms, print and electronic media. The passage of the Kamara Abdullai Kamara Act to decriminalize free speech is a classic example of this commitment – a feat that governments before now could not achieve.
“To date, there is not record of digital rampaging by Government on the basis of their critical reportage,” he noted.
He proposed the formulation of a Media Advocacy Resource Plan that encapsulates the market economy of the media including business models, training and manpower development, technology, specific issues journalists and media welfare, and other key pillars of media viability.
The PUL’s World Press Freedom Day speaker used the occasion to reflect on past intimidation and brutal attacks against several journalists which cannot be forgotten.
He particularly pointed to the case of the Hassan Bility, erstwhile editor-In-Chief of the Independent Analyst was held for six months in communicado and persistently tortured for his alleged alignment with LURD.
“Also in December of 2002, Throble Suah of the Inquirer Newspaper was viciously attacked by agents of Taylor’s notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit. The brutality against the media landscape cannot be ended by not referencing that in 1994 several members of the editorial staffers of the Inquirer Newspaper including Wantu Major, Bana Sackie and D. Emmanuel Nah were arrested from the paper’s Gurley Street Office to Star Base where ECOMOG headquarters was for publication of a story.”
According to him, today, the Liberia independent media is faced with another kind of threat.
“It is coming from the ever-increasing political ownership of the media in Monrovia and across Liberia. With the rise of the digital age, the Press Union of Liberia or independent Liberian journalism is at a crossroad. Solid independent journalism is under threat,” he stressed, adding that the government and the media have a symbiotic relationship, like the teeth and tongue, and must coexist for the betterment of our common patrimony and democracy.
There is a need for mutual respect and collaboration to promote national development and unity, Koijee.
The PUL Major Speaker on the World Press Fredom Day 2022, made several suggestions necessary to improve the media environment, free speech and civil liberty in Liberia.
He called for journalists’ accreditation process on the establishment of media institutions within the country not be solely left with the government. He said the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) conducts a pre-vetting of all requests for accreditation of media institutions, print or electronic and submit the outcomes afterwards to the responsible government institution(s) for consideration.
He called for the establishment of an independent body, preferably a board or committee, comprising citizens with the moral rectitude and integrity, technical expertise, and experience to serve as a watchdog over the media since the media serves as the watchdog of society;
He called on the PUL to strengthen its measures on journalists and media practitioners who use their platform purely for political motives in gross disregard for their ethical responsibilities thus compromising their independence.
The PUL, Mayor Koijee also recommended, must set up a PUL Media Council on Waste Management to work with city governments in all of the 15 counties and sensitize their population on the need to take responsibility for waste which could become a national health and security threat.
“The President of Liberia should appoint a Special TRC Report Board led by the PUL and civil society representation for the full implementation of the TRC Report so that a War Crimes Court and an Economic Crimes court will be eventually be set up to ensure that impunity in the land will be addressed and discouraged forever,” the leader of ruling party youth wing said.