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Senator's brief seizure of journalist's equipment sparks debate on reporters' right to record informal discussions, arguments in senate

(CEMESP/IFEX) - On 25 August 2008, the recording equipment of journalist Julius Kanubah, of the independent radio station Star Radio in Monrovia, was temporarily seized by River Gee County Senator Fredrick Cherue. Cherue claimed that he seized the equipment in reaction to the recording of private discussions by journalists covering the Liberian Senate.

The incident began when legislative reporters started recording a heated argument between the senate's temporary acting president, Lahai Lansana, and another River Gee County senator, Isaac Johnson.

The argument began when Lansana instructed Johnson to take his seat and stop roaming the senate chamber, which angered the River Gee County senator.
According to some of the journalists present, it was at this point that Senator Cherue forcefully seized Kanubah's equipment and gave it to Lansana, who at that moment was briefly presiding over the senate session due to the late arrival of Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai.

Although the recording equipment was later given back to Kanubah, several senators, including Johnson, Cherue and Sumo Kupee, briefly debated the media's coverage of senate sessions, saying that journalists should only record official statements from the senate's plenary sessions and not arguments and side discussions.

However Gbapolu County Senator Theodore Momoh differed with his colleagues, saying that the public has a right to information about any statements made during the senate sessions, and therefore journalists have the right to record and report on them. He cautioned his colleagues not to do anything that would be detrimental to press freedom and freedom of expression.

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