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Looming media censorship

What could be interpreted as a calculated plan to clampdown on legislative reporters at the Capitol especially in the House of Representatives is emerging here, with unforeseen consequences. Last week, the House revoked the accreditations of four reporters from various media institutions, including the president of the Legislative Reporters Association, Musa Kanneh.

The Press Bureau at the House justifies its decision by saying some reporters have overstayed at the legislature and their reportage has become redundant and repetitive, making no impact on the public. Therefore, it asks media entities concerned to withdraw their current staff and assign new batch of reporters.

Void of ethical breach, who determines how long should a reporter stay at a beat? Surely, it’s not the public institution that is being covered, such as the Legislature or the House of Representatives. Rather, this choice squarely lies with editors in the newsroom.

But the Director of the Press Bureau at the House, one-time broadcast journalist Isaac G. Redd, missed his cord and wrongly influenced his boss, Speaker Bhofal Chambers, in taking the decision, raising more questions than answers. This has prompted one of the affected media institutions, Renaissance Communications Incorporated or RIC, operator of Truth FM 96.1 and Real Television Channel 7 to reject the request and rebuke the House for rejecting its reporter, Musa.

As if this weren’t enough, accredited legislative reporters, predominantly from independent or private media institutions, who had gone to provide coverage for Tuesday’s session at the House of Representatives, were denied access into the Chamber on the basis of lack of seat. Notwithstanding, journalists from the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), Liberia National Television (LNTV) and the Liberia News Agency (LINA) received unhindered access to the House Chamber.

Journalist Redd and Speaker Chambers should know that the 54th Legislature is a public institution and the media or reporters have “Qualified Privilege” under media law to cover officials as they conduct the public business. Therefore, selecting specific media entities to cover the House’s session is pure censorship of the press.

Such draculan and repressive tactics had never happened before at the First Branch of Government, particularly the House of Representatives. Public officials shouldn’t hide behind such cloudy and flimsy excuses to clampdown on the media for its reportage.

If the Speaker and members of the House’s leadership or any lawmaker feels he or her right has been infringed upon by a journalist or media entity, the recourse is the law. But stopping journalists from executing their job purely because of disagreement or dislike of their reportage is unorthodox and uncivilized.

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At the same time we do not encourage the media to report falsehood or malign character of public officials and go with impunity. The law provides redress for any official, who feels his right has been violated by media institutions. And lawmakers should always seek due process guaranteed by the Constitution.

The current actions in the House against journalists should be halted immediately because they are counterproductive to the government’s professed commitment to press freedom and free speech, including the recently passed Kamara A. Kamara Act, protecting press freedom. Accredited journalists and media institutions operating in the country should have unhindered access to the workings of the Legislature in order to effectively report to the public on that august body, void of prejudice.

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