PUL Hails Pres. Weah for Enhanced Press Freedom -Says Govt Working in Media Interest

On the occasion of its 57th Anniversary, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has extolled the high level of press freedom in the country, coupled with the passage of laws that enhance press freedom.

Making its position known during the PUL 57th Anniversary celebration in Voinjama City, Lofa County on September 30, 2021, PUL’s Vice President Daniel Nyakomah, speaking on behalf of President Charles Cuffey, outlined the myriads of press freedom blessings that the media has garnered, dating from the past administration, and especially enhanced under the current George Weah administration.

“The PUL has achieved a lot in terms of media freedom and freedom of expression through policy formulation and the repealed of some draconian laws that were impediment to media freedom. PUL achievement is predicated upon President George M Weah political will and his government quest to ensure freedom of the press and expression in conformity with the organic law of our land, the Liberian constitution.

“The constitution guarantees for all citizens the rights to free speech and the freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof, consistent with constitutional guarantee to free speech, the right to opinions without interference and the right to knowledge and information, the Liberian government has in 2010 enacted the freedom of Information Law and established the Independent Information Commission, to ensure  access to information, which refers to  the right of  the public to request, receive,  review, reproduce and retain  records and documents  held by  public  bodies and private entities performing public functions or receiving  public funding.

According to the PUL, the  objectives of FOI Law promote promote effective, equitable and inexpensive exercise of  the right  of access to information; establish clear  and concise  procedures for requesting  and  providing  of  information held by  (i) public  bodies and (ii) private  bodies  receiving public benefits  of performing  functions or providing public service, to establish  and provide  for  the exercise  of  a right  to appeal  any  decision denying  a request  for information of  infringing on  the right of access to information; and  provide  appropriate  penalties  and other  sanctions for wrongful  failure  to keep and or  provide  information. As a result, an oversight body, Independent Information commission was established to ensure the implementation of the act, including compliance.

Also in demonstration of its commitment to upholding freedom of speech and expression, the Liberian government signed the declaration of Table Mountain which among other things require that African states must recognize the indivisibility of press freedom and their responsibility to respect the freedom, independence and safety of the press, the PUL noted.

“The Declaration of Table Mountain demands further that as a matter of urgency, African states must abolish “insult” and criminal defamation laws, at  the time  in Liberia, it has been determined that the penal law of Liberia contains some provisions which have the tendency to impede freedom of expression contrast to the spirit and intent of the Declaration of Table Mountain and other International Conventions; It has further  been recognized that freedom of speech and expression promotes democracy, good governance as well as the rule of law which is a sine qua non  to the development of any nation.

“In furtherance of the Press Freedom, this current Liberian Government under  President  Dr. George Manneh Weah  and my administration as president of the PUL, repealed in their entirety several provisions of the  Penal Law of 1978,  on February 28, 2019 . The repealed sections include 11.11, Criminal Libel against the President, 11.12, Sedition and 11.14 Criminal Malevolence. Liberia is one of several countries in the world and few in Africa to abolish criminal defamation law and establish freedom of information law. Credit goes to all of us as Liberians and as a nation.

“These are also some of our achievements as an advocacy group for free speech, media freedom and social justice.  In this public manner, we again commend President George Manneh Weah and the government for the political will to enable us as a nation to succeed. We also commend you Mr President for your many support to the Union in furtherance of press freedom and free speech and ensuring dignity for media workers.

Benefits of Enhanced Press Freedom

The PUL noted that as a result of the enhanced free landscape that the media now enjoys, the Union has also made significant progress in its decentralization policy, with its presence being felt across the country; as members of the Union, journalists and media workers ensuring press freedom and freedom of expression through the media, Liberians and foreign residents within the territorial confines of our country are freely expressing themselves without fear.

“As a result of media freedom, we are experiencing growth, evidence being the proliferation of media institutions, including the new media, citizen journalism, journalism and communication institutions in the country. More people are now venturing into the media business, unlike many decades back, when people were reluctant to take on journalism profession because of fear, either to be killed, or to experience harassment and intimidation. The PUL will continue to ensure a conducive operating environment of the media,” the PUL stated.

Collective Bargaining Agreement

Cognizant of the hazards that practicing journalists endure on a daily basis, the PUL lamented the toll of economic hardship attended by low wages experienced by Liberian journalists.

“The current working conditions of most journalists in Liberia represent a major impediment to their capacity to perform in line with professional ethics and professional obligations.  Poor conditions of service for journalists remain a major concern in the country. Thus the status and state of the Professional organization which often seeks the basic capacities and means to design sustainable, progressive programs of action on behalf of their members required immediate and direct Interventions of media owners, if realistic prospects for meaningful change were to be realized.

“Many journalists working in the country have no job security. They are deprived from any form of social security, health benefits, while some are owed numerous months of salaries. Closely related to this, is the fact that many Liberian journalists, particularly those in the lower cadre who work as reporters are poorly paid and ill motivated which partly explains the poor performances of some of these journalists and most importantly, the continuous disregard of the ethics of the profession.

“In the light of these critical issues, there has been a clarion call for a collective bargaining standard framework that will to some extent determine what journalists are paid, their conditions of service in relation to the qualifications that they have and their level of professionalism.

“The Union is in the forefront of this crucial course and is confident that the desired results will come sooner rather than later. Already there have been great strides in this regard in Liberia. Standard Collective Agreement has been developed while collective negotiations have been launched at national level.

“However, there still remains a herculean task ahead. Most media owners and executives have often not been committed to any form of collective bargaining agreement for their workers, while the appalling economic condition has worsened the situation. PUL has earlier planned media economic conference, but it did materialize due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which disallowed our good media partner, the European Union Delegation to Liberia to hold the conference,” the PUL stated, informing that the European Union delegation was working with PUL to hold the conference.

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