This coming November, members of the PUL will converge, discuss the issues of importance and participate in elections as required by the PUL constitution to elect new officials of the Union for the next three years. Already, the leadership of the PUL has named its Congress Preparatory Committee for the Union’s 2022 Elective Assembly in November. Founded in Monrovia on September 30, 1964, the PUL is the umbrella organization serving Liberian media professionals and institutions.
With a membership base of more than 1,000 journalists, the PUL has oversight responsibility for addressing problems arising from journalists’ reportage and conduct in the face of the ever-growing demand for quality and good taste. It operates under the auspices of four elected officers – namely: the President, Vice President, Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General for a three-year tenure.
Individuals occupying the posts are required by the Union’s Constitution to hold office for two terms. The 2022 PUL Congress Preparatory Committee will lead all organizational efforts to ensure the successful conduct of the 2022 PUL Assembly, which includes the current leadership reporting on its three-year stewardship. The 2022 Elections Committee is mandated to conduct the PUL Polls in keeping with the Union’s Constitution and as well act within the scope of the Liberian Constitution. Congress by constitutional mandate will meet in the second week of November at a location to be determined later by the leadership of the PUL.
Accordingly, speaking on Friday, September 30, 2022 at the official program marking the 58th Anniversary of the PUL in Sanniquellie City, Nimba County, Mr. Coffey pointed out that, ‘‘the way we will handle our process will show to the world that we are indeed great.’’
This year’s anniversary celebration focused on the Digital Business Model, the New Way in Media Marketing Innovation at a time business in the media has declined.
‘’We will continue to be great when the media play its social responsibility role in ensuring peaceful national elections. Free elections constitute one of the fundamental pillars of participatory democracy; so it should be guided by the media with the responsibility to promote and help facilitate an enabling atmosphere for the free and fair conduct of elections,’’ Mr. Coffey, who spoke on wide range of issues in the media, asserted.
According to him, as required by the PUL election coverage guidelines for journalists of May 2, 2017, journalists’ duty to parties and candidates, journalist including talk show hosts have a responsibility to be accurate and impartial in their coverage of election issues and candidates with all given opportunities to be heard and question, stressing that while columnists, editorial writers and other commentators may express their own individual views about election issue and candidates, those subjective opinions should be clearly separated from and have no influence on the objective news coverage, provided by those same media outlets.
The PUL President said news and opinion should each be clearly identified as such, and should be separated in their placement and treatment in both print and broadcast media.
‘‘By that we can be conflict sensitive. Conflicts normally affecting media practitioner include tensions and sometimes confrontational interaction between security forces and journalists. One of the major sources of tension occurs when journalists are trying to access information, for instance, the security can doubt the legitimacy of the journalists’ sources, whereas journalists often find information from security limited or not delivered in time for their deadline. Now, at that point, there is a discrepancy between journalists need for information and the ability of security forces to provide them with the necessary kind of information and authorization. Now, any measures the state takes, which limit freedom of the press either directly or indirectly are prima facie interferences with the right of the media,’’ the PUL President told the gathering of PUL members.
He continued: ‘‘It is important for both the security and the media to respect each other and a memorandum of Understanding signed few years back because it defines the ways in which they must treat each other, citizens right to freedom of expression. In a climate where journalists are safe, citizens find it easier to access quality information and many objectives become possible. Whenever, journalists or media workers go wrong the union as usual will also act in timely manner, because no one is above the law. Being a journalist or media worker does make anyone to be above the law. Everyone is equal before the law. It is important that we reciprocate.”
‘‘We are optimistic that together we can foster peace, security and national development, if only we respect the rule of law. The gains we have made as a country in fostering press freedom and freedom of expressions are irreversible. Remember, the violence, which is experienced by the population, political actors, leaders and the international community takes root from the historical, political and Socio-Economic parameters,’’ he intoned.
Commenting on misinformation and disinformation, the head of the umbrella organization of Journalists in Liberia observed that there is global proliferation of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda and hate speech. Trust in media and other institutions is plummeting.
‘This shared global crisis that will only grow in magnitude as the next three billion people come online. Recently, there was a video on social media, relating to state of affairs of Liberia's security. It was horrible, perhaps, intentionally and verifiably dishonest. Its content as deemed fake news was perhaps designed to manipulate people’s perceptions of real situation in the country.
The content of the video is known by its promoter as not realistic based on facts that are demonstrably incorrect. The video content appears to be a fabricated information that imitates news media content in form but lacks the news media’s editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of the information. It overlaps with misinformation or misleading information and disinformation or false information purposely spread to mislead people, thus blaming it on the media. So let us watch out for fake news stories by unscrupulous individuals who want to use the media to cause confusion and terror in society,’’ the head of the Union intimated.
‘‘Most at risk, in every country, is local and community media, the connectives issue of professional and healthy media environments. As media struggles, bad actors and information have rushed to fill the gap. While the flow of digital advertising revenue is steadily increasing, little is making its way to the media institutions who employ journalist and create original news content, while some global news companies have built strong digital advertising infrastructures, the vast majority of smaller and local media organizations do not have the skills or technical knowledge to participate in these fast-moving markets, dominated by increasingly consolidated digital platforms,’’ he stated.
He noted Liberia is of no exception of this global situation, saying, ‘‘we must counter misinformation and disinformation to ensure peace and stability in our country. Let us remember that the media is a double edged sword. It can be a terrible weapon of violence when it propagates messages of intolerance or disinformation that manipulates public sentiment.’’
He mentioned that the e other aspect of the media that the PUL leadership wants journalists to continue to exhibit is to use the media as an instrument of the propagation of true messages for citizens to make an informed decision and choices, when the information it represents is reliable, respects human rights and represents diverse views.
‘‘It is the kind of the media that enables a society to make well informed choices which is a precursor of democracy. Public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of journalists is to foster those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. If the media reports propaganda and is one sided that same media may also fuel tension and provoke conflict. It can be an instrument of conflict resolution, when the information it represents is reliable, represent human rights, security policy, and represents diverse views,’’ Mr. Coffey said.
‘‘A media, which is controlled by personnel who apply professional ethics combined with national ownership and diverse access to information, can contribute to societal reconciliation, alter misperception and broaden understanding of causes and consequences of conflicts. Let us not focus on political issues alone, but issues that are also affecting the ordinary people. The media should not just keep on talking about historical conflicts, telling people that current possible conflicts are unavoidable but it should talk words of tolerance and peace, in its contents the media should create an image that outbreak of conflict can be amicably resolved and return to peace is a number one priority of the society,’’ Mr. Coffey further said.
‘‘Again let me thank God for successful 58th anniversary celebration. I also say thanks to PUL members and media workers for standing the test of time. Also, to the people of Nimba County for honoring our invitation to celebrate with us. Let us remain professional as a professional body. True journalism requires proper deportment and service to the public and not black mailing to mislead people,’’ the PUL President accentuated,
Meanwhile, the PUL President also highlighted what he called significant improvement in the Liberian Media.
Mr. Coffey said: ‘’The repeal of several provisions of the penal law affecting the growth of the media is a major milestone achievement in the sector.” He named Criminal Libel against the President and Sedition as some anti-press freedom laws that have since been abolished by the Liberian Government.
He, at the same time, lauded the Government for the demonstration of political will on removing those draconian laws.
He added that Liberians and foreign residents are freely expressing themselves, as a result of Press Freedom being tolerated by the government.