Wednesday, 4 May 2011

No Press Freedom?

Says Quaqua As PUL Gets First Ever Media Defense Team

Mae Azango FPA Staff Writer 

Peter Quaqua, President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) announced that the Union now has a strong defense team of willing lawyers who will commit themselves to protecting the rights of Journalists and various media institutions in the Country. He made these remarks on Tuesday at celebrations marking World Press Freedom Day in Monrovia.
According to Mr. Quaqua, Cllr. Cyrenius Cephas, Tiawon Gongloe, Kwame Clement, Bendor Wla Freeman and Kathleen Makor have agreed in principal that they will begin committing their services to the PUL and its members, especially during times of lawsuits.
“There have been attacks on our members and various media institutions over the period under review. Mr. Rodney Sieh was imprisoned by this regime for thirty days, but was later released after intense pressure for him to write a letter of apology from the Liberian Chief Executive and other top officials of her government. This kind of manipulation from the government does not demonstrate that it’s indeed serious about Press Freedom in Liberia.” Mr. Quaqua said on Tuesday.
He maintained that the action of the government is a clever attempt to make the Liberian media very inactive and weak. Mr. Quaqua used the occasion to the government to recognize “World Press Freedom Day.”
Mr. Quaqua said the Liberian government has spoken about press freedom in many shapes and colors, but is yet to make any public proclamation about it and how the day can actually be recognized in the country.
“The government uses the media to announce World Malaria day and World Women’s day, but we are still waiting for the recommendation for world press freedom day in a statement that will be delivered by head of state. Since we last celebrated world press freedom day in Liberia our government has made some minimum but significant additions to the press for press freedom. While the atmosphere may seem physically welcoming, there are certainly new frontiers to confront and new barriers to cross.” The PUL President told a gathering of Politicians and Liberian media executives. 
The tough speaking PUL President said Since the Union last celebrated May 3, there has been a reduction in the number of attacks on journalists by security personnel and public officials. According to him there were fewer than five in the last year but in all of the reported cases, lacks of punitive actions remain a business as usual. This means, according to Quaqua, that people are beating on journalists performing their jobs and going with impunity.  “As we witness the reduction in the assault on journalists a new frontier was open.”
 Making reference to some of what the PUL President said were draconian methods of media curbing in the country he said ‘SLAPP’ has remain the easiest way to create media censorship in the country.
 “SLAPP” means strategic law suit against public participation. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was rewarded US$5 million dollars by the civil law court in the case against the new broom newspaper. The paper was said not to appear in court, even though the president herself refuse to show up.  We saw the consolidated group rewarded US$900,000 by the jury against the New Democrat news paper. The paper took appeal to the Supreme Court but we have been told that the matter has been withdrawn from court for settlement. We also saw the guilty verdict brought down by the jury against the FrontPageAfrica Newspaper in favor of the famous former Agriculture Minister Dr. Chris Toe, who was said to have been made to resign his post. He was rewarded a handsome amount of US$1.5 million dollars in damages, the paper refused to take an appeal.” Mr. Quaqua furthered.
The last case, according to the PUL President was filed by a private individual, James Jens against the New Dawn News paper for criminal malevolence.  The case was thrown out of court by the magistrate without going into its merits.