The United Kingdom (UK) through its Minister of the Department for International Development (DFID), Harriett Baldwin, has lauded the Liberian Government for passing into law a legislation decriminalizing speech offenses and expression in the country.
In the opening address at a panel on “Press Freedom, Development and Democracy in Africa” as part of the Global Media Conference held recently in London, Baldwin reminded the delegates about the significance of the gains made by Liberia with the passage of the ‘KAK Press Freedom’ legislation.
“It is a milestone to be celebrated. It decriminalized libel against the president and amended the law on sedition. I think we should all give them a warm round of applause,” Baldwin said.
The Minister indicated that the presence of the UK Foreign Secretary at the 2019 World Press Freedom Day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia further testifies to the UK support for media freedom on the continent and hailed the African Union for leading efforts regarding a free society for all.
“We know that free media enables people to learn about their rights and hold governments to account. This is vital for developing free and open societies,” adding that “when people can engage with the decisions that affect them, they can prove the effectiveness of their government which makes business better, improves civil society and eventually, they take charge of their development in such environment.”
Baldwin noted that in many developing countries, the size and strength of the independent media is increasingly constrained, adding that as a co-convener of the two-day Global Media Freedom Conference, the UK has also rolled-out series of critical interventions in advancing press freedom, professional journalism and media freedom mostly in Africa.
She said they are aware of the increasing wave of disinformation in Africa and the UK government is leading with a £15 million support to protect independent media in several countries in Africa.
Also making remarks at the program, Liberia’s Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Lenn Eugene Nagbe, informed the forum about efforts to ensure that claims against media houses for ethical breaches do not become so excessive to the extent that they limit media freedom and free speech.
Nagbe argued that such claims ought not to overwhelm the financial base of media houses and ultimately erode the progress made from decriminalizing speech, and other media reforms.
Minister Nagbe disclosed that the Liberian government is working with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) to seek a review of the civil libel regime with the aim to strengthen media freedom in the country, citing that fundamental requirement for a free society is that we must recognize that media freedom is not a gift to journalists, but a requirement for society to grow, to thrive and be democratic.
In June 2018, President George Weah, in a letter sent to the Legislature, quoted Chapter 11, Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution, which provides for freedom of speech and expression and a caveat of abuse thereof.
He said Liberia is a signatory to the Table Mountain Declaration, which demands that African countries abolish inflammatory and other related media laws, citing that the country is in anticipation of adhering to such legal instruments enacted the Freedom of Information Law and established the Freedom of Information Commission.
President Weah submitted the Bill, which is in memory of the late former president of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).
It amends the Liberian Code Revised, Penal Law of 1978 of Liberia, Chapter 11 by repealing three sections to be known as “The Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom.”
The Liberian Senate, however, on Thursday, February 7, 2019, voted unanimously to concur with the House of Representatives in the passage of the “The Kamara Abdullah Kamara (KAK) Act of Press Freedom.”
The Bill was then forwarded to President Weah for his signature and to be printed into handbill and thus become law.
The Global Conference for Media Freedom was organized by the UK and Canadian governments, bringing together governments, multilateral agencies, civil society and journalists.
The event is part of an international campaign to shine a spotlight on media freedom everywhere, increasing the costs to those violating it while improving the safety of journalists and media workers and their ability to work without interference and easing restrictions on freedom of media and expression.