Journalists Worldwide Observe Press Freedom Day, As COVID-19 Ravages Human Lives Globally

The World Press Freedom Day is every year, the 3rd of May is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. It was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993 as an outgrowth of the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press

Freedom of the press is significant for keeping people informed. A free press monitors the administration and forces them to work for the betterment of the country.

Thomas Jefferson once said “The press [is] the only tocsin of a nation. [When it] is completely silenced… all means of a general effort [are] taken away.”

The press acts as a medium of communication between the government and the people. The free press has a huge responsibility of reporting the truth and shaping people’s opinions. Hence to mark the importance of the press, World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year.

World Press Freedom Day popularly known as World Press Day is one of the calendar events planned, organised and promoted by the United Nations, observed annually on May 3.

The day is celebrated to raise awareness regarding the importance of freedom of the press. The day is reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

The theme of World Press Freedom Day 2020, “Journalism without Fear or Favour” and the sub-themes for this year are:

  • Safety of Women and Men Journalists and Media Workers
  • Independent and Professional Journalism free from Political and Commercial Influence
  • Gender Equality in All Aspect of the Media

As per UNESCO, on May 3, national and local celebrations for World Press Freedom Day will take place around the world, which includes online debates and workshops.

UNESCO will launch a global campaign on media and social media channels, with a focus on “Journalism without Fear or Favour” in an increasingly complex media landscape.

Here in Liberia, dozens of Liberian journalists amid the struggle being threaded as a result of the outbreak of the COVID-19, Liberian Journalists are expected to gather at the headquarters of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) to join the colleagues around the world in the observing of this unique day.

In a report by the AFP – Two Liberian journalists appeared in court in Monrovia on Friday charged with criminal libel after accusing the government of corruption on national radio.

Octavin Williams and Rufus Paul were arrested on Thursday after criticising ministers on Hot FM’s Henry Costa talk show for giving a $13 million road maintenance contract to a company they said was connected to family of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

They claimed the job should have been offered for no more than $100,000, telling the host: “We just want to tell Liberians that this is how our money is being misused.”

The journalists told AFP the police had been listening to the hour-long interview and were ready to meet them outside the station’s Monrovia headquarters as the show finished.

“When we got out of the studio, we were issued a writ of arrest. We called the president of the press union who went to the court with us but when we got there, we were immediately sent to prison,” said Williams, after both men were bailed.

Their case, adjourned until Monday, is the second recent high-profile criminal action against journalists which critics have described as part of a worrying clampdown on press freedom.

Rodney Sieh, editor of the Frontpage Africa newspaper, was taken into custody on August 21 following a Supreme Court ruling that the paper should pay $1.6 million (1.2 million euros) for libelling former agriculture minister J. Chris Toe.

Sieh, who has been treated for malaria, was returned to prison from a three-week hospital stay this week, drawing criticism from international rights groups.

Human Rights Watch called on Liberia to ensure damages in civil cases brought by public officials were proportionate and said politicians shouldn’t be able to “squelch press freedom with big-ticket lawsuits against the media”.

Meanwhile Reporters Without Borders said Sieh was being punished for doing his job as a journalist.

“We call once again on the government to take action to decriminalize media offences, in particular to stop imposing disproportionate fines on journalists in order to intimidate them, since the media play an important role in the fight against corruption,” said a spokesman.

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About Cholo Brooks 13335 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.