Africa

Liberia: Media Say President Must Keep Free Speech Pledge Real

Monrovia, Liberia: January 1, 2019  – After experiencing a difficult relationship with the George Weah’s government during the first year of his six-year mandate, Liberian journalists have unanimously agreed that inflammatory statements from several officials harm the President’s repeated pledge to support press freedom and free speech in the West African country.
Logo of Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
Campaigners for press freedom and free speech hailed Weah after pledging in his first inaugural speech last  January, to guarantee those basic tenets of democracy.
But his actions sooner than later went contrary to that pledge when Weah labeled government critics including journalists as “enemies  of the state.”
Weah’s charge went against journalists that reported plain constitutional breaches and probable corruption. 
Cabinet ministers failed to declare their assets on schedule in keeping with law while Weah himself reportedly declared his last July 26 after accountability campaigners coerced him.
His declaration, however, remains under seal and contravenes his pledge of government transparency.
Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, accused of shady financial deals, have joined the anti media chorus, vowing “to weaponize” (sic) supporters against critical journalists.  
As if these attacks against  the independent press and Mr. Tweah’s  sworn refusal to advertise in independent newspapers, all aimed to frustrate journalists, were not enough, the country’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe dismissed the journalists umbrella organization the Press Union of Liberia as “useless”.
Liberian Journalists At A Recent General Meeting – File Photo
In response to what Union executives call Nagbe’s “unethical comments,” they promptly suspended his traditional “honorary” membership after the Minister vowed not to apologize, saying that he would challenge the legality of his suspension in court.
Meanwhile, Liberia journalists experienced a “catch-22” scenario last Friday when President Weah, perhaps unaware of a previously scheduled PUL mass meeting, called Union members to disabuse their apprehension.
According to our correspondent in Monrovia, President Weah told the willing few who attended his meeting that “as a friend of the media I will always support press freedom… No journalists will go to jail during my administration.” But he warned that “journalists must always have their facts together and correct. “
As the bulk of Liberians is viewed as a gullible public that can quickly disown rights advocates and campaigners for justice and fair play, it would be unsurprising for media practitioners to sooner than later become cagey about their aggressive reportage.
Liberian Journalists Meeting President George Weah – File Photo
One media executive quoted long time multi party democracy rights advocate and politician the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews who warned decades ago about Liberians: “When you remove their roasted palm nuts safely from the fire, they hail you; but if your fingers get  burnt, they’ll say he looked for it.”
Tepitapia Sannah
Bureau Chief, Africa
West African Journal Magazine