President George Manneh Weah has reassured the leadership of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) of his promise to assist in the construction of its headquarters in the soonest possible time.“Charles, I want to remind you of my offer made to you at the beginning of your tenure, that I am ready and willing to do whatever I can to assist your organization to be adequately housed in suitable premises that would contribute to efficient and effective operations,” he reiterated.
Making the pronouncement at the 2019 Annual Awards event of the PUL held at the Paynesville City Hall, President Weah said even though it is no secret that his motives are being questioned by some people, he made similar offer to others who took advantage of it.
“I am confident that they will be able to testify that I have not asked them to make any compromises on their independence or integrity since then. My offer still stands, Charles, for the time being and the ball is now in your court,” the Liberian leader pleaded with the media parent body.
President Weah who was extended invitation to the occasion as Special Guest, congratulated all the award winners as well as his commendation to all journalists for the work that they continue to do in an effort to strengthen the country’s democracy.
Recognizing journalism as a hard work because he is the owner of the Kings FM and Clar TV for many years empathized with journalists by noting that he has a first-hand experience of the struggles that all journalists go through in practicing their profession.
He assured that regardless of the various editorial policies and perspectives he remains supportive to the work the media in the country emphasizing, “As I have promised before, and in keeping with the Constitution of Liberia, my administration will continue to do all in its powers to protect the fundamental rights of all Liberians, including journalists, which include the right to free expression in keeping with law.”
The President said notwithstanding, members of the media should know that they too have responsibilities, including legal ones and pointed out, “There are laws under our legal system which address issues of confidentiality and privacy, as well as libel and slander. I have been informed that the Kamara Abdullai Kamara Act does not provide you with immunity if you violate these rights of other citizens, and it does not prohibit any citizen from seeking legal recourse through a civil lawsuit, when there is a perception that individual rights have been violated.”
He therefore urged the president of the Press Union, Charles Coffey stating that since the integral part of the event is an effort to self-regulate its members, he must not let the bad apples spoil the bunch adding, “There can be no better phenomenon that should jolt you into action, than listening to the airwaves or reading social media. They have become inundated with profanity, fake news, and incitements to violence.”
“Journalists should seek the truth and report it. Yet still, there are those who have deliberately opted to disregard every laid-down rule of professional and ethical journalism. In your efforts at self-regulation, there must be consequences for those who act unprofessionally. It is those people, Mr. president, who must be weeded from your ranks,’ he reminded Coffey.
Meanwhile, the PUL boss, Coffey, said the union has not withdrawn from the battle front of responding whenever there are attacks on the media community in Liberia and that it has, among other things, sought explanations, condemned and warned against further unfriendly actions against journalists.
“As president of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), we repeatedly cautioned media practitioners that irrespective of the problem facing journalists in Liberia, there is always a need for all journalists to conform to professional ethics and the journalist’s creed. Responsible journalism is indispensable to the building of a vibrant and democratic society,’ he said.
He informed President Weah and other platform guests that as required, the media must play a vital role in holding authorities accountable, exposing corruption, providing information to citizens, offering a platform for debate and shaping opinions and that these functions mean that independent media are a very particular target for authoritarian regimes and for other individuals in society with vested interests.
Coffey said considering the achievements in the activities undertaken during the period, it is safe to suggest that the Media in Liberia needs a continual works on general reforms in the sector; training, institutional capacity building, professional standards, self-regulation and enhancement of broader media outputs as national development policy.
However, the issue of political ownership of some of the media institutions are undermining professionalism stating that though not all the media institutions that are owned by some politicians are deemed to be exhibiting acts depicting unethical, yet some of the institutions are using their platforms to allow some people engage in disinformation while some politicians who owned the media institutions normally control the content and other platforms, thus creating disinformation.
He continued that one of the major challenges for independent media is financial survival and called for longer term and more coordinated approach to media support as an essential component of democratization, recognizing the high cost of quality media and the difficulties media face to survive in an increasingly an open markets
He also reminded the guests, that the deliberate spreading of false information which is intended to mislead is not a new phenomenon as it is a growing global problem and averred that the ease and speed with which disinformation can now spread online via social media as well as the increasing sophistication of disinformation tactics has brought renewed focus to the issue.
“Disinformation can polarize societies and aggravate divisions and contribute to an overall distrust of the media and this makes support to truly independent media more vital than ever. The unprofessional acts by some media practitioners, or institutions owned by some politicians is undermining professionalism and affecting the trust the public reposed in the media. The Union is contemplating media conference to discuss and reach a logical conclusion on these matters,” he reiterated.
The PUL boss said the general focus of the Union among other things is to advocate for an enabling , professional and conducive media environment for journalists or the media to operate without intimidation, harassment and molestation while performing their duty in line with the provisions of the Liberian Constitution and international conventions and protocols on media freedom and human rights.