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Prez. Sirleaf scowl PUL, press freedom critics

By Jos Garneo Cephas
The panalists at the JHR end of training program
The panalists at the JHR end of training program

( Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has sharply reacted to leading Liberian media practitioners’ statements that the Liberian media is faced with lawsuits.

President Johnson-Sirleaf made her reaction Friday, June 28, 2013 on her monthly program, “Conversation with the President” on ELBC radio in Paynesville, near Monrovia.

The President of the Press Union of Liberia, Peter Quaqua, the Managing Editor of Front Page Africa news paper, Rodney Sieh, and the Project Coordinator of the Carter Center, Attorney Alphonso Zeon, had criticized government for its failure to settle advertisement fees with local media houses.

The Liberian Leader clarified: “My talk about closing press down is off wash. I said and there will be no removing away from that. We will never take away press freedom, we will never close any media down”.

However, we expect the media to be responsible. We expect criticisms to be factual. In our constitution, our laws, all say freedom of the press is in violate, but those who do so must take responsibility.

The President further stressed: “The press needs to be responsible, I am resolved and strongly resolved not to give in to black mail”.

The media executives made the criticism at a panel discussion Wednesday June 26, 2013 at the University of Liberia in Monrovia.

The panel discussion marked the close of five years of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) media training project that catered to more than 300 Liberian journalists.

They spoke of challenges that the media is being faced with, something they said is making it difficult for the media to enjoy the much talked about press freedom in Liberia.

Rodney Sieh said: “In the midst of this ‘space of press freedom,’ government continues to carry out lawsuits against few of the independent press, including my newspaper in Liberia. We have lost one and have others to pursue as we speak”. 

He said: “Until government is ready to allow a total freedom of the media, let’s pay advertisement fees to the very media to enable them pay staffs.”

PUL President Peter Quaqua added: “Pluralism of the media on a general level in Liberia does not indicate a total independence of the press in this country.”

He noted: “One of the most troubling situations in the Liberian media landscape is the matter of ownership, when we have politicians and business people establishing media companies.”

Mr. Quaqua then called for the drafting of a law to determine who owns a media establishment in the country.

The first official government reaction came from Deputy Information Minister, Norris Tweah, who also served as one of the panelists.

Minister Tweah said: “Over thirty years, it is under the administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that Press freedom and free speech is fully being practiced.”

//“Credit must be given this government for making good its promise and living by it to fulfilling total press freedom and free speech ever in Liberia,” he noted.

The JHR training was facilitated by the Liberia Media center and sponsored by a United Kingdom based funding.


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