By: Wremongar Blojay Joe. II*
The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) on Wednesday, March 31, 2020, held a National Conference on the Safety of Liberia in Journalists.
Held in the Liberia YMCA conference hall, the forum also saw the adoption of a communique to guarantee the protection of journalists and media workers in the country.
It is a final activity done in collaboration with the Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa with funding support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands- in Ghana
titled, “Improving Press Freedom and Safety of Journalists Situation in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”
CEMESP and MFWA believe the project will help improve the safety of journalists’ situation in the three countries.
Malcolm Joseph, the Executive Director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building said the forum is “an important step to protecting the safety of journalists to enable them to become conscious of potentially dangerous situations and how they can protect themselves at all times in their line of duty”.
Speaking at the opening of the forum, Mr. Joseph said. the gathering would as well enable stakeholders to commit to improving the safety of journalists’ situation in the country, work out modalities to enable security agencies and the media to have improved understanding of each other’s role in the Liberia society
The forum bought together journalists, editors, and managers of media outlets; representatives of the national media regulatory body, security agencies, journalists unions, and other media associations, (such as FEJAL, community radio representatives, association of newspaper publishers, association of broadcaster etc.), police, military, civil society organizations and representatives of journalism training institutions.
Delivering the keynote at the forum, Deputy Information Minister Boakai Fofana who proxy for Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie said the Liberian Media is constrained with low salary and lack of equipment for journalists which according him has compelled some journalists to indulge into negative media practices that lead to violent reactions by their victims including national security agents.
He said the Weah –led government has an outstanding record of Press freedom based on the principles of the Table Mountain declaration and the Kamara Abdullai Kamara Act of Press freedom.
According to Deputy minister Fofana, the Liberian government has no grudge against any journalist or media institution, but that frictions between journalists and national security agents are caused by what he called diametric opposition of the works of journalists and that of national security agents.
The Director of the Executive Protective Service Trokon Roberts, Deputy Information Minister for Press and Public Affairs- Eugene L Fahngon, and Police spokesman-Moses Carter were among those in attendance that made special presentations.
The Director of EPS in his presentation pleaded with journalists to at all times “respect and follow instructions” given to them when covering the presidency.
“We have to be respectful of each other. Don’t praise me but just give me the respect I deserve”, said Roberts before committing further– “under my watch, no state security will mistreat, brutalize and manhandle any journalist”.
Director Roberts complained that he has been a direct victim of “bad press” but stressed that even at the level of negative reporting, “no one must harm any journalist”.
Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon committed the Weah administration’s support for the establishment of a working group for the development of an action plan for the safety of journalists in Liberia.
Mr Faghngon noted that the current government of Liberia headed by President George Weah has no intention of muscling the press.
The Spokesman of the Liberia National Police- Moses Carter used the forum to caution journalists to be careful, seek the truth and verify the information before publication.
He said media institutions must play the role of guarding how their reporters conduct themselves as “many of the issues of safety of journalist and their unfortunate encounters with the police often result from failure to follow instructions given them”.
The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building presented the findings of a recent “Survey of the State of Safety Policies and Practices of Media Houses in Liberia”.
The survey which presented an overview of the state of safety of journalists’ conditions in Liberia; focused on the existence or lack of safety policies in media houses, the perceptions of journalists about the role of regulatory bodies, media managers, owners, and colleagues, in safeguarding journalists in the discharge of their duties.
According to CEMESP, the study finds that: “the safety of journalists is not prioritized by many media outlets, as none of the forty media outlets selected for the study had a codified general safety policy or a specific safety policy for female journalists”.
The study also identifies state security agents as the principal perpetrators of violations against the media, and how journalists covering issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic had come under attacks and threats, with elections and protests accounting for the period of increased attacks and abuse of media rights.
Many of the participants asked questions of concern to the head of government security and agencies present and also proffered recommendations for the protection of journalists in Liberia.
A communique adopted at the end of the forum requests media houses, civil society, including individuals and agencies of government to commit to taking urgent actions that can guarantee the safety and protection of journalists and media workers.