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Freedom Of Press: Where Are We?

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A Liberian journalist and a printer were recently charged with criminal libel for an article that accused the country’s presidency of backing opponents of the junta in neighboring Guinea.

Syrenius Cephus, Managing Editor of the Plain Truth Newspaper, and the Manager of Seamarco Printers Michael Makinde, were detained following the publication of an article accusing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government of arming Guinean dissidents.The two men were also charged with “maneuvering against the state”. Was it an attack on the freedom of press? That is the noise in the market.

“What the hell is wrong with these journalists? Who they think they are? Can’t they try to be a bit patriotic? Come on men. Even if you have evidence for such a story, can’t you put the interest of the country first? Do you know how many Liberians who are living in Guinea can be greatly affected by this kind of irresponsibility?

Why are they abusing the level of freedom of expression we enjoy under the Ellen Sirleaf’s regime? Who could do this under the Charles Taylor’s regime or the Samuel Doe’s regime,” remarked Alfred Toe during a heated debate in an entertainment center in Paynesville, the suburb of Monrovia.

But that did not go down well with John Bardue, another fellow citizen seating next to Toe.  “Who are you to talk about journalists in this manner?,” Bardue sharply reacted with a voice filled with emotions. With a snap of the fingers, Bardue called the bar-tener. The bar-tener rushed with a bottle of local gin to pour him a drink.

After taking several nips of the liquor, Bardue added: “What kind of freedom of expression you are talking about? Hein? Look at this other one talking about freedom. If you detain a journalist at the National Security Agency (NSA) is that freedom of expression? Why couldn’t you follow the due process by issuing a law suit? I agree this has something to do with the relationship between Liberia and Guinea, but if you have a problem with the story, the court should be the only solution.”

The noise did not stop there. Abraham Williams, who was in the same gathering, joined the debate and uttered: “I am a journalist myself. But you see, I must admit one thing here; that is, since Ellen Sirleaf got in power the level of freedom of expression has increased. It may not be what we want, but it is better than before.

Today, on radios, televisions, in newspapers and you name it, people express what they feel, sometime, they even say things against the government that could lead them to jail or to death if it were during the past regimes. But I don’t think we should continue comparing this government to previous ones because it is known worldwide that this government is more democratic than the others.

If that is the case, then the government has to try and meet the challenges. Detaining a journalist that way is not democratic. And to you Toe, I want to say that when you want to talk about what Cephus did, you do not include all journalists. We all are not the same.”

This comment from a journalist triggered a very big noise, an uncontrollable one. Everyone in the entertainment center began to talk at the same time; no one could listen to the other, an uproar that almost turned into a fight hadn’t it been the intervention of the proprietor of the entertainment center who proposed a free round only if everyone sits and stops talking. Badoo Gaye, the proprietor of “DON’T MIND THE NOISE INC.,” turned to me and said: “don’t mind the noise in the market. Everything we say here is just noise in the market.”

Then he told the others this: “you can have a round on me. But let me tell you one thing: we all must be thankful to God that we can now stand anywhere and say anything without fear. I know we don’t have yet what we wanted. But the one we have is not bad when compared to what is happening in some other countries. Again, if you want to progress, don’t look at what you have achieved. Instead, look at what needs to be done. Having said that, let me propose a toast.” After all raised their glasses, Gaye said: “To the level of freedom of expression we have achieved in Liberia.” And the drinking resumed.

This time, Gaye played a popular music titled: Ashao. Every one of them got on the dance floor for a display of something that is difficult for me to describe. The heads, the legs, and the hands were moving so disorderly that to cross the floor you have to be mindful not to get a kick or a punch. The movements had nothing to do with the tune of the music; it was like everyone was remote controlled by an external force; the force of the quantity of beverage in the body.  They were hogging each other, saying: “This is Liberia, the land of Liberty.”

At that moment, I left DON’T MIND THE NOISE INC. In the taxi I stopped to carry me home, the same noise continues. “Why this government thinks they are so perfect? They are the same people who used to say all kinds of things against Taylor via the media. That’s their time to bear it too,” A lady seating beside me said. But I said to myself: “This is just mere noise in the market.” So please don’t mind it, because IF YOU MIND THE NOISE IN THE MARKET, YOU WILL NOT BUY.

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