Amid growing difficulties for journalists trying to cover the public health crisis in Liberia resulting from the Covid-19 epidemic, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the country’s authorities to guarantee access to information and journalists’ safety.
Frank Payne, a journalist with community radio Magic FM in Buchanan, a town 140 km southeast of Monrovia, was physically attacked during a wake for a relative of a member of the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency (LDEA) on 27 March.
According to the information obtained by RSF, Payne was attacked by LDEA agents with the apparent aim of preventing him from reporting that around 100 people attended the wake in violation of a ban on large gatherings imposed by the health authorities with the aim of limiting the virus’s spread.
At the behest of the health ministry and National Institute of Public Health, the information ministry announced on 23 March that only eight media outlets – four of them state-owned – would henceforth be allowed to cover the health ministry’s tri-weekly news conferences on the Covid-19 epidemic, although Liberia has more than 150 radio stations and many newspapers and news websites.
“Access to information is very important for the public to be able to protect itself against the virus,” said Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office. “Obstructing journalists is the worst way to combat the epidemic’s spread. It is essential that the authorities ensure respect for the existing pluralism and allow journalists to do their job of reporting the news freely and with complete safety.”
As the pandemic spreads in Africa, RSF has noted many cases of intimidation, physical violence and censorship targeting journalists and media covering the health crisis. Violations of the freedom to inform have been seen in Senegal, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Madagascar, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, Mali, Chad and Congo.