The Senate Committee on Information, Broadcasting, Culture and Tourism unanimously rejects new access pass unilaterally introduced by Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Eugene Fahngon for journalists covering the COVID-19 fight across the country, instead, upholding that journalists should use their official institutional ID cards for coverage during this pandemic.
After several meetings held with the Press Union of Liberia and Deputy Minister Fahngon over standoff between the two entities regarding issuance of new access pass for the media, the committee reports that Fahngon over used his power by changing the press pass without the involvement or cooperation of the PUL.
Both the Ministry of Information and the PUL cooperated earlier in issuing press passes initially, but Deputy Minister Fahngon claims the passes were duplicated and got in the hands of people who are not journalists, accusing the PUL for the duplication, an allegation the later rejects.
The Senate committee headed by Bong County Senator Dr. Henrique F. Tokpa directs that journalists should use their respective Press ID cards, noting that the change of passes now would undermine the fight against the pandemic.
Recommendation from the committee also states that Deputy Minister Fahngon should stop using force and inappropriate words against the press and the President of the PUL, Charles Cuffey, while urging President George Manneh Weah to relax his recent recommendation that only selected journalists should cover the State of Emergency and the coronavirus fight, noting that such utterance by the President could be interpreted as censorship of the media.
The Senate information committee urges the Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Lenn Eugene Nagbe to organize and facilitate a meeting with media executives to promote peace between the government and the Press Union of Liberia.
Meanwhile, findings from the committee reveal that both parties don’t trust one another, noting that Deputy Minister Fahngon in their meeting accused PUL president Charles Coffey of mass production of press passes, but the PUL says the decision to changing passes was made by Fahngon alone.
The committee describes the media as very important in the fight against COVID-19, and that restricting the press is not necessary, adding that the media is the watchdog of the society, and its involvement in the fight against the pandemic is key.
“We are not in armed conflict; we are fighting a deadly disease that requires the involvement of all. It is not appropriate and reasonable that we have any distraction, if we will succeed in the fight against COVID-19”, it warns.
The committee further reports that President Weah expressed during the declaration of the State of Emergency that accreditation should be given a few journalists thus, denying access to majority of Journalists in Liberia.
Members of the committee say this in their opinion restricts access to information and press freedom, bordering on contravening the actual intent of Article 15 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia regarding press freedom.They also call on the President to reconsider his position and allow total access to journalists in the country to cover the pandemic.
By Ethel A Tweh–Editing by Jonathan Browne