Speaking as a special guest of the PUL 2019 Awards Night on Friday, August 9, 2019 held at the Paynesville Town Hall, outside Monrovia, President Weah, who recommitted his government’s resolve to protect the fundamental rights of journalists, said it is important for the Union to help cleanse the local media space by pulling out transgressors and persons using the media as a shield to propagate messages that could divide the nation and stall national progress.
The annual ceremony marked the end of the celebrations of the World Press Freedom Day, which was officially held in Cestos City Rivercess County on May 3, 2019.
The Chief Executive called on the PUL to adopt self-regulatory mechanisms and again encouraged the umbrella media group to remove “the dangerous rise of unprofessionalism within its ranks. Do not let the bad apples to spoil the bunch.”
He reminded the Union that “there can be no better phenomenon that should judge you into action – than listening to the airwaves, reading the social media that have been inundated with high profanity, fake news, and incitement to violence.”
“Journalists should seek the truth and report it, a primary rule that many of you have dutifully followed, and as a result of this, you’re receiving accolades tonight,” he said, saluting the over 40 journalists who bagged awards in wide-ranging categories for which they applied.
He acknowledged that the press is a critical part of a fully functioning democracy and should be considered a prominent actor of the country’s political system because it holds great socio-political influence over the population that could benefit the government and the governed.
It can be recalled that recent times, the Legislature validated and passed into law the Kamara A. Kamara Act of Press Freedom proffered by the Executive Mansion to decriminalize longstanding speech-related offenses in the government’s quest to promote freedom of expression and of the press.
However, President Weah said it was equally important to understand that the law does not provide immunity to journalists who violate the rights of other citizens - the law shall not prohibit citizens who feel injured from taking advantage of the court system in civil suits.
“In your efforts toward self-regulation, there should be consequences for those who act unprofessionally; those bad apples must be weeded out from your ranks because journalists are required to be responsible citizens and not exempt from the duties to abide by the laws of our country,” President Weah stressed.
Also speaking, PUL President, Mr. Charles Coffey, congratulated the awardees and said that it was time the institution works harder to foster a more vibrant Liberian media.
According to Coffey, the Union needs to have a say in the licensing of media institutions and journalists as well as granting of frequencies by the Ministry of Information and the Liberia Telecommunications Authority.
The PUL President opined that people or journalists have their right to the use of social media though many would misuse those platforms as there can be acts of transgression in the print and electronic media, and doers would argue that they are not members of the PUL hence they cannot heed its mandates, citing their right to associate or disassociate.
Meanwhile, the PUL Boss observed that politicians and persons with their own interests are now cleverly “creeping into the media landscape, undermining high level of professionalism, and something must be done to remedy this situation,” if there should be a much more responsible media in Liberia”.
For his part, the Political Leader of the opposition Movement for Progressive Change(MPC), Mr. Simeon Freeman, who served as the keynote Speaker, challenged Liberian media to report relevance over irrelevance.
Freeman said it is about time for the media to highlight issues that are of paramount concern to the well-being of the Liberian people.
“Report on issues that will lift the people’s agenda to include: poverty eradication, Job Creation, Educational advancement and many others,” Freeman added.
He encouraged the media to be more professional in the discharged of their duties void of interference or partisanship.
Freeman, who is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Consolidated Group-dealer of Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) in Liberia, said there is also a need to reawaken the new dynamics of the media landscape of the Country for the common good of society.
At the same time, the MPC leader warned his opposition colleagues to avoid insulting the president including government officials in the name of speaking truth to power, something he acknowledged that he was guilty of in the past regime.
However, he pointed that a very strong opposition is an asset to national development and should be welcomed in society.
He said an opposition, who disagree with the ruling establishment on approaches to national development in a more constructive way, must be Commended by the ruling party because it is part of a good democratic tenants.
Freeman then called on members of the opposition to proffer good recommendations to the ruling establishment in order to develop Liberia not to only sit on the fence and criticized without suggestions for the forward march of the Country.
He wants the Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC)-led government to also do more in helping to transform the lives of the people including the improvement of the country’s economy.