CHAPTER III, Article 15 of the Liberian Constitution of 1986 deals with the fundamental rights of all Liberians. Section a of this article states that “every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution. Section b provides that the right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge.
It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent”. Section c also tells us that “in pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries”.
It is in consonance with these foregoing Constitutional provisions that Liberian media practitioners/journalists exercise their professional duties across the country.
Probably, without understanding the interpretations and implications of these provisions, journalists, especially those of us in the print media, we behave the way we do. And as a result, we engage in the various forms of defamation to include libel.
Section ‘b’ of this article gives us (journalists) the freedom to gather and report the news without any limitation, while section ‘a’ also attaches responsibility for any abuse of the freedoms we exercise.
Even though it may not go down well with some colleagues of the profession, I make these comments against the backdrop of our professional behavior nowadays in Liberia.
Those of us with conscience would realize that what we do as journalism is characterized by vices that are inimical to the growth of the profession- the issue of “quick cash” being very critical. Either we report the news for or against to attract “cash” not being cognizant of the responsibility thereof.
A case in point is the recent publication by the Chronicle Newspaper linking the Director of the National Security Agency or NSA to ‘bribery’. The paper had reported that Director ‘Fomba Sirleaf had received US$600,000.00 from a group of criminals abroad to create the environment for drugs trafficking in Liberia’.
One would further wonder as to how possible for such an important and high profile Security Chief to mortgage the safety of his country for which he provides security by accepting such an amount of money; as an experienced professional character, why would Director Fomba Sirleaf, in anyway, choose to engage in such situation when he’s fully abreast of the fact that at the end of the day, he is a Liberian, and that he had no other home than Liberia.
Whether or not Director Sirleaf was ever contacted for verifications as provided for in our Code of Ethics remains to be very unclear, and from all indications considering the paper’s story and Mr. Sirleaf’s reaction, the allegations may just be the normal things we do-mere speculations to achieve certain objectives.
While the Government of Liberia and the media may be true partners in a vibrant democracy, issues arising out such partnership must be characterized by respect for each other’s rights. From the perspective of the media, we must be guided by the principles of good journalism-ensuring that issues we report must be accurate, balanced and credible to avoid the negative reactions that we normally receive after reporting unsubstantiated stories.
When President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf spoke about “public officials being bothered by group of hustlers with poisonous pens” a few weeks ago, many well-meaning Liberian journalists felt the psychological pain because they do know that most of their colleagues were one way or the other involved in “mercenary journalism”. The ‘highest bidder concept is, no doubt, diminishing the professional integrity and respect of the noble profession either because of the lack of understanding of the law which gives us the right to practice or intentional ignorance of such law.
But again, that’s the way our society looks nowadays. We have deliberately gone against the law in anticipation of public sentiments for our own popularity – Writes George K. Barpeen, Jr.