Information Minister Len Eugene Nagbe has slammed as intolerant the decision by the Press Union of Liberia to announce the suspension of his membership after he expressed a “critical” view about the workings of the union, even though PUL itself has been championing free speech.
Nagbe, an honorary member of the union, is expected to appeal against the decision.
“As a member of the union, I have the right to criticize it. And I criticized one time and then your only reaction is to suspend me? Is that the transparency and tolerance you’re talking about?” Min. Nagbe asked.
One Christmas Day, Nagbe told a local radio talk show that the Press Union was a “useless” body due to its apparent inability to call its members to ‘order’ when they breach the professional code of ethics in the discharge of their duty and base their reportage on promoting farce.
PUL president Charles Cuffey indicated that the minister’s comment sought to publicly ridicule the organization.
The minister had appeared on Fabric Radio together with FrontPage Africa’s Rodney Sieh and News Public Trust’s Frank Sainworla, where, he, on the one hand, and the journalists, on the other, had engaged in a rough discussion on cross-cutting national issues, respectively defending their positions on matters raised by the host of the program.
Interestingly, however, the action by the PUL soon became controversial after its vice president Octavin Williams issued a statement categorically distancing himself from the ‘suspension’ of the minister.
Williams argues that it is only the executive committee of the union that is clothed with the mandate to warn, suspend, or expel a member who might have acted unconstitutionally; pointing out that his position was enshrined in Article 29 of union’s constitution.
Williams said he was never informed of any such decision to relax Min. Nagbe’s membership with the PUL.
Adding flavor to the discourse is a journalist’s group under the banner of “Concerned Reporters and Editors Network,” which has lamented the move by the PUL, and says putting hold on Nagbe’s membership has ‘political motives’ and requires “serious condemnation.”
“Having analyzed the context of the statement made by Minister Nagbe, coupled with workings of the Press Union of Liberia under Charles Cuffey, the Concerned Reporters and Editors Network concurs with the Information Minister that the PUL has been proven to be [useless] due to its flagrant silence on a series of ill-fated, unorthodox reportage and publication by some media institutions and practitioners,” the group said.
Apart from the PUL allegedly falling short of reminding or reprimanding journalists found in ethical transgressions, the Concerned Reporters and Editors Network further cited the “inability” of the union to, among other responsibilities, prevail on media institutions to pay salaries and arrears owed reporters and other employees for months, as one of the weaknesses of the press union.
Howbeit, PUL president Cuffey has yet to respond to the latest position by the local media group.