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The Issue of Press Freedom in Liberia

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Recently, Liberian journalists joined other colleagues throughout the world in celebrating World Press Freedom day. The genesis of the day is the Windhoek Declaration signed on April 29, 1991 in Windhoek, Namibia by media practitioners, government stakeholders and other actors to affirm the principles of free press and work towards the “Promotion of an Independent and Pluralistic African Press.”

The Windhoek Declaration was a call to protect the fundamental principles of the freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; such right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”

After welcoming my daughter into my room for her ‘happy birthday’ greeting and song early on May 3, 2012, the next issue was how really free was the press in Liberia on the 11th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. The next issue which followed was the Government’s relationship with the Liberian media in keeping with the Windhoek Declaration.

It is only fair to suggest here that in keeping with the Windhoek Declaration, the government and the media relations in Liberia have had cordial relations for the last six years with no major incident. The government’s commitment in upholding press freedom has been of practical reality.

Perhaps, in countering this suggestion, one may argue that Liberian journalists and citizens may only be exercising freedom of the press and free speech because of the presence of the United Nations Mission in Liberia or UNMIL and other international organizations. And that any attempt to create an un-enabling environment for free press and free speech in Liberia would be costly for the administration-that’s the fear.

Well, that argument could hold in the absence of UNMIL. Until then, the administration must be hailed for the current environment for free speech and free press. Despite the environment created by the administration, how really free are we in the journalism that we do in Liberia currently?

Why the government may be playing its role in upholding press freedom, we do have our own shortcomings in terms of the responsibilities we must exercise in our journalistic sojourn. In many instances, we actually do not exercise the responsibly we have.

Many-at-time we infuse sentimentalism and partiality in the news we report with due regard to the person(s) or institution(s) or organization(s) about whom or which the news is without striking a balance.

Knowingly giving credence to un-publishable materials is a major challenge that we must overcome if we must be credited for being responsible. In the case of uncertainty with respect to obscenity, consultations with other are very important and necessary. But most of us normally don’t do that because “we know it all” or “we are the editors”.

Attaching values to ourselves and our output continues to be a major obstacle to our growth and development. Most of us “sell ourselves very ‘cheap’” and as a result we are bought for little or nothing. Out inability to constructively engage news sources and other institution continue to retard our progress.

Most of the unethical conduct experienced among journalists/reporters can be attributed to inefficiency and mismanagement at most media houses. The inability of some media mangers to ensure appreciable salaries, incentives, as well as the enabling working environment for reporters, editors and other staff is a major factor responsible for some of the ethical breaches.

As journalists, we must be realistic to ourselves; freedom of the press must not be is not one sided. If the government is creating the enabling environment, we, too, must create same our reporters, editors and staff. When these are done, there would be no hurdles in our progress and development.

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