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CEMESP On Media Freedom In Liberia

The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) says the decriminalization of speech by the Liberian government has not done much to curtail some anti-media actions carried out by state and non-state actors.
CEMESP used this year’s celebration of this World Press Freedom Day to make a special case for journalists’ safety as Liberia moves toward the 2023 General Elections, when more journalists will be exposed and vulnerable to attacks and threats, as research reports can attest to in this country.
A CEMESP World Press Freedom Day statement issued in Monrovia Monday flagged the significance of the day and its meaning to the challenges that journalists continue to face in doing their work as the world celebrates Word Press Freedom Day on today, May 3, 2022.
CEMESP specifically notes the challenges Liberian journalists continue to face with instances of attacks perpetrated against them during the lead up to the celebrations as well as the strides that have been made in Liberia with the passage of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom in February 2019.
CEMESP’s Executive Director, Malcolm Joseph, said the continued refusal of the government to allow Punch FM to operate; the decision of the government to stop some broadcasters from hosting a government critic on their radio stations; and the failure of the state to hold people accountable for attacks on journalists and the media as shortcomings the government must commit itself to address in the coming year.
CEMESP further recalled that tracking of violent and other extrajudicial actions against Liberian journalists in 2021 found that physical assault accounted for 47% of such violations which represented a 14% increase on the 2020 occurrences. The tracking also found that violations that involved threats and resulted in the destruction of property belonging to journalists constituted 23% of negative actions against journalists in the country in 2021.
The year 2021 also saw an increase in the institution of undue lawsuits or the threats of such lawsuits against journalists. Such undue lawsuits accounted for 18% of violations against journalists and media houses. Compared to 2020, it represents an increase of 13%. The data on unmeritorious lawsuits against journalists validates the US State Department’s 2020 report on human rights which noted that libel suits are used as a means of forcing the Liberian media to self-censorship.
As was the case in 2020, the CEMESP tracking found that supporters of political parties or individual politicians remained the main source of violence against journalists. These accounted for 42% of all violations. Supporters of the ruling party were the perpetrators of 18% of these violators, while 12% of them were carried out by the opposition. Government officials and security officers each accounted for 23% of violations against journalists.
The media development institution calls on Liberian journalists to remain steadfast in maintaining the ethics of good journalism as they join their counterparts around the word to celebrate the day.
At the same time, the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding is calling on duty bearers and development partners who have roles in promoting media safety not to see it as mutually exclusive from the ideals of protecting the right to stand up for the rule of law, accountability and good governance, promoting the right of women and children and advocating for a safer environment and world peace.
This, CEMESP says is not a moment to apportion blame but to accept that we have to do more as a nation to protect media freedom. When journalists are safe to do their work it creates the assurance that good governance is thriving.

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