LIBERIA: CEMESP, MFWA Launch FOI Manual for Journalists Benefit from Anti-corruption Reporting Training
A joint project dubbed: Press Freedom, Women’s Digital Rights and Accountable Governance for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone implemented by Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding, (CEMESP) Liberia and Ghana based Media Foundation for West Africa, (MFWA) has culminated in the launch of a simplified Freedom of Information manual and the training of journalists from fifteen media houses on accountability reporting.
The event hosted at ICampus, Snapperhill, Carey Street in Monrovia, was attended by key functionaries of state and non-state actors related to the implementation of the Liberian FOI law, inclusive of the Chairman of the Independent Information Commission, Cllr. Mark Bedor Wla Freeman, the Deputy Information Minister Atty. Daniel Gayedu and President of the Press Union of Liberia, Charles Coffey.
CEMESP’s Executive Director Malcolm Joseph in a welcome remark at the opening session of the event said that the manual will transcend the need for journalists to access information but serves as a guide for citizens to demand accountability. He disclosed that this project is supported by the Dutch Government through its embassy in Accra Ghana.
Independent Information Commissioner Cllr. Bedor Wla Freeman thanked the organizers of the event, noting that he felt honored to speak on the importance of an initiative intended to have unhindered access to information. He described FOI Law as a crucial international instrument that serves as a fulcrum for other laws. He cited instances where FOI Law serves the citizenry such as in education aiding students to know about courses and cost thereof and especially in the feverish electoral environment confronting the country where people need to know a lot about the preparations and process leading to polls. Cllr. Freeman applauded CEMESP for being supportive in partnership building without which the Independent Information Commission charged with the responsibility of implementing the FOI Law cannot be effective.
Standing in for the Minister of Information was Deputy Information Minister Atty Daniel Gayedu, who also lauded CEMESP and MFWA for this effort that seeks to ease the understanding of journalists about the FOI Law as a transformative tool to curtail the syndrome of speculation and suspicion. He said access to information empowers communities to rise above protest action and described the simplification of the law as a giant step, which must not stop there, but to also strengthen the remedial mechanisms for the law to be efficacious. He challenged all to file more requests in the intervening period and made mention of the Open Governance Partnership, (OGP), as one such accountability and transparency promoting instrument that exists. The Deputy Information Minister expressed hope that the FOI Training manual will benefit more than fifteen journalists targeted for the training and help to improve the quality of the national debates to impact the lives of the people of Liberia.
Press Union of Liberia president Charles Coffey also lauded the project objective as critical to building public trust and confidence and empowering the people to participate in governance. He said it is a good tool for journalists to work with as there is a compelling need for disclosure of information that serves public interest. He used the occasion to ask information holders to be responsive to their statutory obligation. He appealed to journalists to make use of the new tool of enhancing their professionalism.
Atty. P Alphonsus Zeon drilled journalists on the topic: FOI Law and using it for investigative and Anti-corruption reporting. He traced the origin of the law from Sweden and built the basis of its international underpinning to the infusion in the constitution of Liberia. He made sequential highlights and explanations of key provisions of the act and a showcase of success cases of how the law has been tried and tested using county based networks to elicit a range of empowering information.
Seth Joseph Bokpe, Senior Reporter of Fourth Estate in Ghana used a conversation approach to provide a perspective of how the Ghanaian media has been making use of the law, filing requests, doing stories around such requests and filing complaints to their Right to Information Commission. He disclosed that their approach has been yielding mixed results. He teased out questions on media ownership in Liberia and factors that have been stifling disclosure of information by public and relevant private entities covered under the law. He argued that the orientation of public servants who had taken the oath of secrecy still serves as hindrance for them to open up to public scrutiny. He ended with the recommendation for cross border cooperation in replicating FOI stories based on the headline patterns that were showcased.
Journalists in the training session were forthcoming in their responses and posed probing questions on such issues of support to undertake investigative reporting and safety net for investigative reporting, among other things. MFWA has encouraged journalists to reach out when they have such interesting story ideas that need to be developed for possible support.