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|Labor Minister Claims Press Freedom, But…-As PUL Warns Against Unprofessional Journalism|
|Published on May 24, 2010||Email To Friend Print Version
Labour Minister Tiawon Gongloe said much progress had been made by the current Liberian Government to uphold press freedom and free speech in the country, but admitted that there are still anti-free speech laws on the book that need abolition.
Minister Gongloe said if these laws are not quashed from the constitution, they would be used by future governments to squash the gains that have been made in the struggle for freedom of expression and of the press in Liberia.
The Labour Minister spoke last Thursday, May 20, 2010 in Monrovia, when he served as keynote speaker at a one-day Media Laws, Ethics and Accountability Conference organized by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).
The conference is a follow-up to previous events and was intended to enhance the professional skills of the media in the face of the number of law suits against institutions and practitioners.
Besides, the gathering sought to strengthen the self regulatory regime of the Union and its enforcement mechanisms.
PUL President Peter Quaqua said the conference was intended to bring together stakeholders in the media to discuss, review and identify problems in the media with respect to its freedom, laws and ethics, and to carve a better way forward.
Speaking of the topic “Media Laws, Ethics and Accountability: Challenges and Opportunities,” Minister Gongloe, noted that the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has created a fertile ground for the press to operate freely and for people to speak out their minds without fear of oppression.
“Today,” Gongloe told a room of journalists, “I can say without any fear of contradiction that much progress has been made in the struggle for freedom of expression in Liberia.”
“This government,” he added, “largely composed of past human rights and pro-democracy activists and campaigners has, to a large extent, proven its commitment to the protection of freedom of expression.”
The Liberian lawyer and ex-human right advocate, who was once persecuted during the Charles Taylor regime, said a country that allows individuals and groups to speak and write freely has a better chance of developing faster than a country that does not allow freedom of expression.
“Where there is freedom of expression, individuals often freely contribute ideas to society through their writings, speeches and actions relating to issues affecting them and others in society,” Labour Minister observed.
Minister Gongloe asserted that a government that tolerates freedom of expression is in a better position to know what people are thinking and to appropriately address the concerns of the people it governs.
He said the government of the day, fully upholding the principles of free speech as penned in Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution, has allowed opposition politicians, some of whom served as advisors and top officials in the Charles Taylor-led administration, to speak at will and say anything thing they wish against the President.
He said unlike the past, when radio stations were closed, journalists arrested and detained on charges of promoting anti-government statements, criminal malevolence, sedition and even espionage, amongst others, today is the total opposite.
“This government operates on the principle that all views expressed in the public space have the right to equal protection, including views that are diametrically opposed to the government and its functionaries,” Minister Gongloe averred.
The Government of President Sirleaf promotes freedom of expression but everyone who wants to exercise this right must take care not to abuse it and become irrelevant.
He observed that although progress has been made in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression in Liberia, it is a progress that is linked to the political will of the government of President Sirleaf to recognize and tolerate freedom of expression, in obedience of Article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia and the international bill of rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, amongst others.
And this avenue for free expression, the Minister said, must remain available to all without any hindrance from government, and called for anti-press and draconian laws to be abolished in the country.
“…It is important that efforts be made to review existing laws to find out whether they are consistent with article 15 of the Constitution of Liberia and our ongoing national efforts to build a democratic, peaceful and prosperous country,” the Counselor-At-Law suggested.
“Where laws are found to be inconsistent with the Constitution of Liberia and our efforts to build a democratic country we should petition the National Legislature to repeal such laws and where enabling laws are required for access to information, we should petition it to pass such laws.”
He hailed the PUL for submitting a Freedom .of Information Act to the National Legislature which has been there for more than a year, until last week when public hearing began on the fate of the bill -- following several local and international pleas.
“On the Media Laws in Liberia,” Gongloe intimated, “I believe that there are certain criminal laws that must be repealed in order to make freedom of speech sustainable.
He said the law on sedition for example, is a clear limitation on free expression. “The law on sedition was first introduced in 1914. Its purpose was principally to prevent the incitement of various tribes against the central government at the time that the authority of the central government was being extended to the interior parts of Liberia. It was also intended to prevent any citizen of Liberia from complaining the government of Liberia to any foreign government or official,” he explained.
Sedition is a second degree felony, a crime for which one could go to jail for five years. “I find the sedition law inconsistent with the Constitution of Liberia and our efforts to build a free and democratic society. Therefore, all efforts should be made by the legislature to repeal it,” the human right advocate advised the Liberian media.
He urged the media to also closely look at the law entitled Criminal Libel against the President. According to this law if anyone says or write something about the President of Liberia to make him or her look bad and that statement is untrue, he or she has committed a first degree misdemeanor and could go to jail for one year.
“This law too needs to be repealed,” suggested, justifying that “The President of Liberia is someone that can be easily defended by all that is available in the public space and by the use of all available media for clarification.”
The third law the Minister suggested that needs examination is the law entitled “Criminal Malevolence”.
Criminal Malevolence, like Criminal Libel Against the President, is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by one year imprisonment.
Under this law a person is guilty if he says anything against any official of government in the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary Branches of Government that is untrue.
Minister Gongloe said “Freedom of expression carries with it responsibility for abuse, but I strongly believe that victims of the abuse of freedom of expression must seek remedy through the court by civil actions.”
He said speaking against an official of government under no circumstance should lead to the arrest and detention of any citizen of Liberia.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, PUL President Quaqua called for professionalism in the media. He said in as much as journalists have the right to report, they must do it professionally, taking into account the ethic of journalism.
He said there were some media institutions and practitioners creating embarrassments for the PUL by not following the principles of professional journalism.
He said those who choose not to follow the path of professional journalism will not get the support of the PUL.
“Those embarrassing the Union must be identified and left behind, and those who want to follow us will follow us,” the tough talking PUL President said, not naming anyone. D K Sengbeh writes; 231 6 586 531, firstname.lastname@example.org