Some media executives have welcomed President George Weah’s recent statement on a favourable working environment for journalists within the country, as it relates to freedom of expression, hoping the statement becomes tangible.
Weah, during his inaugural address on January 22, 2018, affirmed commitment to support freedom of expression during his tenure, in continuation of the gains made by his predecessor, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,
In his words, “We could not have arrived at this day without our voices being heard loudly, and all our views, no matter how critical, being freely expressed in an atmosphere void of intimidation and arrest. This was only made possible by the tolerance of my predecessor, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who protected the rights to freedom of speech as enshrined in our Constitution. Now, in my turn, I will go further to encourage and reinforce not only freedom of speech, but also freedom of political assembly.”
Mr. Malcom Joseph, Executive Director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), acknowledged that the President’s comment is laudable and it signifies his commitment to press freedom in Liberia.
Joseph urged the President to demonstrate such promise into tangibles, with the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, which has before lawmakers. He added that, if Weah can exercise his executive lobbyist power to pass the act to decriminalize Libel, being used against the media that will signal that he is committed to press freedom in Liberia.
Joseph noted that although it is still too early to judge the current regime as it relates to press freedom, he is hopeful that Liberia will transcend from the level of being a partly free in terms of press freedom to a free country, according to the latest index from Freedom House. a non-governmental and government funded organization that advocates for political freedom, democracy and human rights based in the United States of America.
Joseph highlighted prospects in reference to other media related laws to engage the 54th Legislature, including an act to transform the Liberia Broadcasting System into a Public Broadcaster, an Independent Broadcast Regulator Act, and Community Radio Sustainability Act.
Press Union of Liberia (PUL) president, Charles Coffey, also lauded the President comment in this regard and hopes that such pronouncement will be put into practical acts.
Coffey suggested that Weah include the media in his pro-poor agenda as outlined in other prospects besides the ‘Liberianization’ policy with regards to removing tariff on media related equipment imported into the country, which would allow Liberians to venture into the importation process.
For his part, the publisher for the IN PROFILE DAILY, Mr. Carlton Boah, is of the opinion that Liberians should allow the new government to work in the excesses of the past government as the Weah has promised.
“I will give him the chance, he said he would do everything to improve what the Madam Sirleaf left out, so it is incumbent upon us Also speaking, PUL’s for president, Peter Quaqua, said Weah probably needs some briefings on the importance of this bill in his desire to strengthen press freedom and political assembly.
Quaqua acknowledged his excitement over the president’s initial thoughts about press freedom. He added that going forward, Weah administration needs to appreciate that the decriminalization of defamation and speech is indispensable to sustaining our democracy.
It can be recalled on that July 20, 2017, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf submitted to the legislature a bill to decriminalize press offences, particularly Libel.
The bill is titled “An Act to Amend the Liberian Codes Revised Penal Law of 1978”. It delayed two years and half after a promise made by the former president.
Reports show that Liberia is signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration issued by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and World Editors Forum (WEF) signed in South Africa in 2012, which calls for an end to Criminal Libel. Liberia has passed the right to information laws in 2010.