The President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Charles B. Cuffey has expressed disappointment over the level of what he called ‘Poor working condition’ of Liberian journalists , blaming it on media owners for not providing those incentives that would gradually improve the livelihood of their employees.
The PUL President spoke when he delivered a special statement during the observing of the 55th anniversary of the union held in Gbarnga, Bong County.
Below is the full statement of Mr. Cuffey:
Our Keynote Speaker, Hon Prince Karmue Moye, deputy speaker of the house of representatives,
Madam Superintendent and officials of Bong County,
Our development partners, representative of internews, other platform guests, Officials of government, officials of the Press Union of Liberia, Madam siatta Scott Johnson, President Female Journalists Association( Feja),other officials of various PUL auxiliaries and members of the Press Union of Liberia, representatives of various civil society and religious institutions, ladies and gentlemen.
We are celebrating our 55th anniversary in Gbarnga City Bong County as part of the press union decentralization exercise . The observance as you are aware is in continuation of the celebration of strives made by esteemed journalists to commence advocacy for free expression, freedom of the press and journalists’ safety which eventually led to the establishment of the PUL on September 30 1964.
Though, the Union was basically, set up to advocate for press freedom and the protection of journalists, it has since grown to a vibrant pro-democracy group that has championed not only media matters, but issues affecting the democratic governance of the state, social justice and human rights. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human rights.
So, we are celebrating on the Theme : Strengthening Reporting on Trafficking in Persons and Improving Media Regulation. We held two days symposium on trafficking in persons and the LTA draft bill.
The symposium was intended to enhance the capacity of the media on reporting on trafficking in persons, and action leading to adopting of the draft LTA FM regulation and end confusion in broadcast . It was also aimed at creating awareness on trafficking in persons ( mainly rural communities since a number of community radio journalists from across the country attended the ceremony.
Mr keynote speaker, fellow colleagues, there is a serious situation creeping in our media landscape that requires our collective responsibility to safely protect the sanctity of the media. If nothing is done urgently to address this issue it will continue to undermine professionalism, peace and stability in our country .We must act now and not tomorrow. This is very grave and is about the misuse of the media by some individuals. The gravity is the issue of political ownership of the media in Liberia. It is rapidly leaving professional journalists without a profession.
Some people with political interest are deciding content of their radios daily to meet their goals at the detriment of societal cohesion.
Political ownership of the media institutions concerned is hurting professional journalism and downgrading its standing as a major actor in democracy and governance. My esteemed colleagues, prior to the advent of the political ownership of the media in Liberia, the journalism profession was highly respected and enviable. But for now in Liberia journalists are now pawn in the political rivalry that is running the media amok at the service of politicians. What is most definitely dangerous is the insensitivity by two radio stations to the plight of the Liberian people. Roots FM radio and Freedom FM radio owned by Henry Costa and Deputy National security Agency Director (NSA) San T Sanyon respectively are involved in acts that are inconsistent with our PUL code of conduct and ethics. They are increasingly using hate messages on their platforms. In recent times, particularly the 20th of September 2019 two employees of Freedom FM radio owned and operated by NSA deputy director San T Sanyon used insults or profanities during the radio station morning show and they continue to insult and broadcast hate messages on the radio. Effort by the PUL to make them conform to ethical standards and good journalism is proving fruitless.
We have communicated with the Ministry of Information and the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) to take action against them in line with the organic law of Liberia since they gave them the authority to operate in the country. Our intention is for them to conform to good media practice and desist from unprofessional behavior . The PUL is of the conviction that LTA and MICAT will help greatly in the process. Maybe, these institutions are not respecting the PUL’s call for good journalism and respect for societal norms because it did not give them license or permit to operate .
We are also urging all power holders in the country to join the union in soliciting ideas aimed at ending the escalating wave of invectives and profanities characterizing radio broadcast throughout country.
Other issue of concern is the unfavorable economic environment of Liberia. The appalling economic situation in the country is greatly affecting the media thus worsening economic condition of journalists and media workers in Liberia.
The current working conditions of Journalists in Liberia represent a major impediment to their capacity to perform in line with professional obligations.
Thus, the PUL as a professional organization though with the limited capacity is designing sustainable, progressive programs of action on behalf of their members, which requires immediate and direct interventions of stakeholders if realistic prospects for meaningful change were to be realized.
Most journalists working in the country have no job security . They are deprived from any form of social security, health benefits, or other forms of social welfare benefits, while some are owed numerous months of salaries. Closely related to this is the fact that many Liberian journalists, especially those in the lower cadre, who work as reporters, are poorly paid and ill-motivated which partly explains the poor performances of these journalists and most importantly, the continuous disregard of the ethics of the profession.
In the light of these critical issues, there has been a clarion call by the IFJ Africa office and some media organizations in the continent, for collective bargaining standard framework that will to some extent determine what journalists are paid, their conditions of service in relation to the qualifications that they have and their level of professionalism.
The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) is in the forefront of this crucial course and is confident that the desired results will come sooner rather than later. Already, there have been great strides in this regard in the sub-regions. Standard collective agreements have been adopted in West and Central Africa, while collective negotiations have been launched at country levels.
However, there have been Herculean task ahead. Most media owners and executives have often not been committed to any form of collective bargaining agreements for their workers, while government have not also been able to provide the necessary support to back such agreement. To address the economic hardship of our county, the entire economy of Liberia needs to be revised . Salary harmonization and salary cuts of government officials including the legislature will not fully address the economic situation of our country. Though the salary cut is good,the money from the deduction cannot overturn the consequences posed by the economic crisis. Government needs to also embark on other creative ways to ensure economic viability in the country.
Journalists Safety Fund
There is no journalists safety fund in Liberia. Though, the situation in Liberia is much better than other African countries where journalists are often arbitrarily arrested, forcefully detained and held incommunicado, physically attacked and beaten, their equipment confiscated and sometimes willfully damaged and to some extent physically tortured and their families intimidated and threatened.
In this regard, there is a need for safety fund to be administered by the PUL. The safety fund, will provide assistance to journalists who found themselves in conflict with the law and are being maltreated or persecuted or are in danger or in exile due to their work. If instituted the journalists safety fund in Liberia will also enable the PUL give assistance to journalists who are ill, deemed to be in conflict with the law in the discharge of their duty, or who are victims of accidents or other forms of natural disasters. The fund will do a lot to pay for the medical bills of journalists who may be sick or attacked in areas of the country as well as to evacuate them from county where there lives may be seem to be in danger.
Again let me thank God for successful 55th anniversary celebration. I also say thank you to all media workers for standing the test of time. Also, to the people of Bong county for honoring our invitation to celebrate with us. Let us, as journalists remain professional as a professional body. True journalism requires proper deportment and service to the public and not black mailing to mislead the people.
Happy 55th anniversary and may God richly, continuously bless us all.