Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Changing Landscape Requires Liberia to take a closer look at how it handles and tolerates the Fourth Estate
LIBERIA JOINED the rest of the world in celebrating World Press Freedom Day Tuesday, the set aside on May 3rd of each year to pay homage to the contributions of journalists around the world.
ESTABLISHED IN 1993 by the United Nations, the celebration aims to raise awareness on press freedom and remind the various governments all over the world to continually do their duty of respecting and upholding the right to freedom of expression.
THIS YEAR’S THEME IS 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers” is the theme of World Press Freedom Day 2011  and the celebration coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration for the promotion of free and pluralistic media.

ON TUESDAY, celebrations took place in over 100 countries worldwide are also taking place to mark the observance of the day.
IN BURUNDI, some 100 journalists marched in the capital Bujumbura to press for the release of a jailed colleague, the decriminalization of press offences and to mark World Press Freedom Day. "We're demonstrating, on the international day for press freedom, to demand first and foremost the release of our colleague, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, who has been jailed for months and risks a life sentence," Alexandre Niyungeko, the president of the Burundian Union of Journalists, told AFP.
IN ALGERIA, journalists gathered in the capital Algiers on World Press Freedom Day Tuesday, pressing for better salaries and training. Lamenting what they deemed the "catastrophic situation" of journalists in the north African country, the group staged a sit-down protest outside Press House, which houses several newspapers. "The profession is in total disorder," said the Algerian National Initiative for the Dignity of Journalists, which organized the protest and put the number of demonstrators at 200.
AS THE CELEBRATION took place in cities around the world, it seems the problems are similar in countries across Africa where newspapers continue to face challenges amid the criminalization of their work by the powers that be.
IN LIBERIA, newspapers are being bombarded with lawsuits in a nation where the courts are being used by the corrupt as a haven to take on journalists and newspapers. In the past few years, the New Democrat and FrontPageAfrica, two of the country’s leading newspapers have had to fight lawsuits. FrontPageAfrica which lost a suit against a former minister has moved against filing an appeal to the Supreme Court fearing the draining of its mere resources to fight a case it believes it cannot win.
THE ISSUE OF SALARY and training is a key problem for journalists around the world. In Liberia, many continue to lament the poor conditions journalists endure with newspapers and radio stations still finding it difficult to pay journalists decent wages.
IT IS BEFITTING TO KNOW that Liberia is not alone it the struggle. In South Africa for example, journalists are facing an erosion of press freedom as parliament presses ahead with the Protection of Information Bill which when enacted will enable national, provincial or local governments to declare secret a wide range of information which if published could result in the person responsible for the publication, an editor, journalist or a citizen, being imprisoned for a period which in some instances could be for up to 25 years. The current deadline date for this Bill is June 24, 2011. The Bill gives the Minister of State Security excessive powers to declare information secret. It also contains a clause empowering the authorities to maintain secrecy over what information has been declared protected, or secret, so that a journalist, or an individual, who gains access to that information will not know that its publication could be a criminal offence.
FOR LIBERIA, which passed a similar Freedom of Information Act last year, progress has been made by media institutions and the press in general but more needs to be done to ensure that the judiciary branch is not used as an empowering tool to keep journalists from doing the work.
THE RULE OF LAW is essential but authorities owe it to the journalism profession to ensure that journalists’ rights are protected and government laws are not misused as a whipping stick to keep the press at bay. Press freedom is a must all over the world regardless of the challenges. Liberia cannot and must not allow itself to fall prey to the abnormal oppression against the Fourth Estate.