A Threat That Must Not Be Overlooked
Every year, May 3, 2013, media practitioners the world-over gathered at various locations in different countries to observe World Press Freedom day. The day was set aside by the United Nations General Assembly to create awareness about the importance of press freedom, as well as to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and marking the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration- a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1961.
In view of the foregoing, the UN, through its Education Scientific and Culture Organization or UNESCO, dedicated World Press Freedom Day on May 3 to draw public attention to the role and importance of press freedom as it relates to the tenets of democracy to also include accountability and transparency in public and private services.
As part of the celebration of the day, varieties of topical issues linked to press freedom and governance are developed, assigned and discussed by various panelists drawn from different sectors of society, especially when such issues threaten or undermine democracy. For this year’s celebration theme: Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media, the United Nations thought to attract public attention to the violence journalists encounter in discharging the reportorial duties around the world.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, in a statement to commemorate the day, noted that the world would benefit more, if it is safe to speak because freedom of expression is the cornerstone of good governance, sustainable, development and lasting peace and security. Ban Ki Moon also noted that theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day highlighted the need for action to uphold the right of journalists to carry out their vital work.
In contravention of such importance message for all, Liberia’s celebration of World Press Freedom in the Port City of Buchanan in Grand Bassa County last Friday was punctuated the “ declaration of war” against journalists by the head of high profile Presidential elite force, the Executive Protective Service-formerly Special Security Service or SSS.
“You have your pen, we have our guns,,” threatened Director Othello Warrick, assuring a very serious battle should Liberian journalists engage in what he referred to as ‘wrong reportage’.,
Director Warrick issued the threat against journalists after he had been invited to make remarks during the official program marking World Press Freedom day since the issue of security as formed part of the panel discussion in Buchanan. As a way of proving his “worth and entrenchment” to the Liberian Presidency, the EPS Director insisted repeatedly on taking drastic action against journalists “who. will intrude the intelligence of the Presidency”.
Such a violent statement uttered by Director Othello Warrick on World Press Freedom Day-a day of sober reflection by journalists and well-meanwhile and good people on the role and challenges encountered by media in performing their duties, is unfortunate. It further exposes media practitioners to danger especially by those who seek to return Liberia to its dark days, when Liberian journalists were brutally arrested, attacked or beaten and jailed or killed while discharging their duties.
If the Chief Commander of the armed Presidential elite force could soberly choose World Press Freedom day in Liberia to threaten war against journalists, it must have been a “made-plan” about to be hatched, and such violent threat must also claim the urgent attention of the United Nations, whose efforts to ensure an enabling environment for the work of journalists” is now being threatened.
For us journalists in Liberia, this is a threat of war that must not be overlooked, even if others in our society do not want to be in solidarity with us as evidenced by their conspicuous silence.