‘No Journalist Is In Jail’ – PUL Prexy Says But Flags Punch’s Quagmire

It seems the unfriendly relationship between the Liberian media community and the George Manneh Weah administration is transcending the era of bellicose rhetoric and maturing into constructive interaction and cohesion. Most gatherings of media people in the country in years past were characterized by emotional orations from across the aisle, but that seems not the case during the celebration of this year’s World Press Freedom Day. The major orations dwelled more on gains made and frictions lighted in the last one year. Even the President of the Press Union of Liberia sounded congenial and pragmatic, acknowledging a major gain which is the fact that there is no Liberian journalists in behind bar in line with their reportorial and editorial duties. But President Charles Coffey, Jr., did not forget to flag the suppression of the registration of a seemingly opposition online media organ, The Punch. The Analyst reports.

The President of the Press Union of Liberia, Mr. Charles B. Coffey, Jr., says it is a delight that in the past years, no Liberian journalist was put behind bars on account of journalistic duties and functions.

 He noted that since the  historic repeal of  the criminal and seditious libel  law in 2019, Liberia has made commendable progress in  the  area of press freedom.

“No journalist is in jail in relation to the practice of  journalism,” the PUL leader said. “No media house has been closed down.

The Liberian media environment is much better as media reforms programs are on course.

“Under my watch as President of the Press Union of Liberia, my team is working with partners including the United States Government and People to improve the legal operating environment of the media in Liberia,” he said. “Our work successfully decriminalized speech in partnership with the Weah Administration.”

He however pointed to one exception, the PUNCH FM, which is yet to be opened.

According to Mr. Coffey, the PUL pleaded with relevant state institutions to grant the station permit, until the issue landed at the court. So we are calling for speedy adjudication of the case.

 “However, while it is good on a day like this  to highlight the  progress we  have made in  the area of  press freedom, it is equally necessary to red-flag  the emerging threats which have  the potential  to  reverse  all  the gains we  have made since  the repeal,”  he further stressed.

Mr. Coffey recalled that a number of incidents have been  recorded  by PUL from 2020 to present which is a cause of  concern Dozens of  journalists  were attacked by some elements of the Liberian security sector. So we are again reminding government to release the findings and institute  measures to avert  harassment, intimidation and other unlawful acts against the media.

“We are not only concern about threats to free speech, but we are also worried about threats against citizens during electoral processes of our country, either by political actors and others who may think their rights were being affected,” Mr. Coffey further noted, adding: “Attacks on journalists and media workers are being tracked by dedicated staff at the Press Union of Liberia informing advocacy on journalists’ safety.”

The PUL president said his organization is engaged with the Liberia Telecommunication Authority to review the current FM Regulatory Regime which the Union has criticized for being profit driven then service orientated for the good of the people.

“In the past years we have run the National Media Council which has mediated cases arising from the works of journalists across Liberia,” he said. “The Press Union of Liberia, as an advocacy prodemocracy institution continued to protect the freedom and ensure    measures to fully guarantee the safety and protection of journalists. So these gains we have made are irreversible.”

 He said to continue the reform process of the media, PUL is collaborating with partners and government including some lawmakers including River Gee County Senator Conmany Wesseh to ensure the passage of a bill seeking the establishment of the Independent Media Commission.

“The Leadership of  the Press Union  of  Liberia is  urging all  journalists and  media  workers as  the  watchdog of the  society and  the   ‘fourth estate of  the land’  to encourage freedom  of speech as guaranteed  by the Liberian  constitution,  the  fundamental objectives  contained  in  chapter 15 of  the constitution and  uphold  the  responsibility of  the government to  the  public.”

He urged media workers to remain professional and respect ethical standards. In recent times, the PUL received many complaints of alleged reckless practice by certain media houses and some journalists.

Mr. Coffey added: “Let me remind you colleagues and all media houses that freedom is important to be used responsibly. Journalism is a privilege, a service to society, not to be misused.     This is also a priority for PUL and we will continue to build the capacity of our media practitioners. PUL is therefore, calling on  all journalists and media  houses  to  ensure professional and ethical practice at  all times to put the public  good ahead of  other  interests  or  considerations.”

He reminded journalists that while self-regulatory mechanism is  another alternative means of  enforcing professionalism,  the  press Union of  Liberia as the umbrella professional platform of  media practitioners in  the  country encourages its  members and  all journalists  and  media  workers  on  the  importance of  self- respect,  discipline and  to  always stand by  the  truth and  justice.

He said further: “There are lots of reform measures put into placed and by the grace of God, I will successfully be ending the mandate you gave me on two occasions and I need to turn over to efficient, effective and media freedom advocates and people oriented leadership the authority you   have entrusted with me.”

Coffey said the theme of this 2022 World Press Freedom Day, “Journalism under Digital Siege”, underlines the many new digital threats journalists are faced with, and demands responses from all concerned stakeholders.

It is very vital, that social media platforms increase transparency on various engagements to stop the spread of disinformation and promote reliable information, he said.

“In the same vein, human rights-based governance is required to guarantee that internet establishments do more to tackle disinformation, online hate speech and potentially hurtful content. This must be consistent with international standards on freedom of expression, access to information and the safety of journalists.”

According to him, standards of confidentiality or privacy ought to be reinforced in respect to threats as it relates to the right to privacy by digital technologies and practices such as data retention, mock intelligence, astuteness, infiltrator, and arbitrary surveillance.

“Proper Lawful or permissible actions are desirable to avert and prosecute illegal surveillance of journalists, both by public and private parties, while there should be unavoidable legal protection for journalists to keep their sources confidential.”

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