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CPJ calls for collective fight

The New Dawn Liberia The New Dawn LiberiaThe Center to Protect Journalists has called on authorities of Ebola affected countries and journalists to work together in fighting the deadly virus.  The Center said the Ebola crisis in West Africa is unrelenting, and journalists on the frontline of reporting on the virus are caught between authorities wanting to control how the outbreak is reported, and falling victim to the disease themselves.

It said the Liberian media is in a fight for survival, with government continuing a clampdown on the press which began after the first cases of Ebola were reported here in March, according to CPJ research and interactions with local journalists and rights activists.

On September 30, the government announced it was taking over the issuing of accreditation for both local and international journalists to practice in the country, according to news reports.

The Press Union of Liberia has accused the government of going against a Memorandum of Understanding signed in the early 1990s between the PUL and the government, in which the PUL was put in charge of accrediting individual journalists, while the government, through the Ministry of Information, registered media houses, the reports said, but notes that Government has reneged by saying the memorandum is not backed by any statutory law, quoting government spokesman Isaac Jackson.

On October 2, the government announced new media restrictions, barring health workers from speaking to the press, and requiring all local and foreign journalists to obtain official written approval before contacting and conducting interviews with patients, or recording, filming or photographing healthcare facilities, according to news reports. Journalists without this permission are at risk of arrest and prosecution, the reports said. Health officials said the restrictions were necessary to protect the privacy of patients and health workers, and applied to local and international journalists, according to news reports.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in an October 1 letter to Parliament also requested additional powers to restrict movement and public gatherings, and the authority to appropriate property “without payment of any kind or any further judicial process,” The Associated Press reported. The president, citing the need to bolster the fight against Ebola, sought the suspension of several articles in the Liberian constitution including freedom of expression and the press, movement, labour rights, and religion. Lawmakers, some warning the country risked turning into a police state, rejected the request.

The President’s request to Parliament came on the heels of a three-month state of emergency imposed on August 6 where, in a televised speech, she warned of the use of “extraordinary measures,” including suspending citizens’ rights, in the bid to contain the virus. Liberia has the highest casualty with 2,458 deaths out of 4,493 confirmed, probable and suspected deaths linked to Ebola, recorded in seven countries worldwide, according to World Health Organization figures published October 15.

The news that three Liberian journalists died from Ebola is a reminder of the risks the press can face. The PUL announced the deaths of Cassius Saye, a cameraman at Real TV, and Alexander Koko Anderson, a contributor to Liberia Women Democracy Radio, who both died in October, according to news reports and local sources. Freelance journalist Yaya Kromah died in September, the reports said. It is uncertain in what circumstances all three contracted the disease.

With Ebola making headlines around the world, international news outlets have deployed journalists to cover the story in West Africa. Ashoka Mukpo, an American freelance journalist who was working for the U.S.-based NBC News, contracted Ebola in October, according to news reports. Mukpo is among at least five Americans evacuated to the U.S. for treatment after contracting Ebola in West Africa, news reports said.

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