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Three draft media laws advance through legislature; CEMESP urges their approval as World Press Freedom Day approaches

(CEMESP/IFEX) - On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, CEMESP welcomes the introduction in the House of Representatives of three draft media laws, presented to that body on 17 April 2008 by a coalition of media and civil society organisations.

Liberia's House of Representatives introduced three draft Liberian media laws (An Act to Transform the Liberia Broadcasting System into a Public Service Broadcaster, An Act to Establish an Independent Broadcast Media Regulatory Commission and a Freedom of Information Act) during its regular plenary session on 29 April.

The laws, produced under the banner of the Liberia Media Law and Policy Reform Group, itself an outgrowth of the internationally sanctioned Partnership for Media Development and Conflict Prevention in West Africa, have been four years in the making, during which there was a series of consultations involving civil society, the media, government and the international community.

After the 29 April reading in the House of Representatives, the bills were referred to the House's Committee on Information and Broadcasting for review and are expected to be returned to the floor of the House within two weeks.

Malcolm Joseph, coordinator of the Media Law and Policy Reform Working Group, sees this development as very positive and a sign that the legislature is determined to ensure that Liberians benefit from this basic freedom. Mr. Joseph noted that the action of the House could not be a better present for the media community on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, which is to be observed on 3 May.

Meanwhile, Mr. Joseph has renewed calls to members of the House and Senate, civil society and media groups to remain committed to the cause of media reform in Liberia and ensure that these laws are enacted at an early date.

As we observe World Press Freedom Day, it is CEMESP's ardent desire that the government of Liberia will move swiftly and ensure the passage of these three draft laws.

Aside from allowing the media greater freedom in its work, the reform process will provide additional incentives for citizens to take advantage of Article C of the Liberian Constitution, which asserts that ". . . there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries."

A society which operates within this context stands to benefit from greater accountability and transparency in the operations of its institutions, to the effect of providing better opportunities for the people. It is a known fact that the more information people have about the functions and activities of their government, the more they participate in its activities, and the more responsive governments are to their needs and demands.

The legislature must see this action as making the Liberian democracy a living instrument, where the people will petition their representatives to move on issues bearing on our domestic and international relations, in a forum guided by ideals and consensus, and free of fear.

CEMESP is still concerned that the majority of Liberians still do not understand the basic and fundamental freedoms we all enjoy in expressing ourselves. This is a foremost right that is still violated and abused daily - not only by government actors, but also by civil actors and, to some extent, the media.

This trend needs to be corrected, and education is the best means by which this can occur. There is no reason whatsoever someone should be denied of the right to say what he thinks, so long as his self-expression does not actually harm anyone.

Updates alert on the three draft media reform laws: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92683

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