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CEMESP World Press Freedom Day statement

Unchanged Situation

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Monrovia: On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2010, the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) is disappointed that the state of media freedom in Liberia remains unchanged, more than four years in a new democracy.

CEMESP is particularly concerned because press freedom is the cornerstone to good governance and a functional democracy, and notes further that the range of information available to ordinary citizens enables them to participate more fully in public life, help determine priorities for public spending, receive equal access to justice and hold their public officials accountable. This, CEMESP notes, cannot be achieved when the media, the source of information, is cramped.

Liberia's media is still bruised by physical force, restricted by moribund legal and administrative instruments and suffers political and economic influences or control, by the government or private entrepreneurs.

It is troubling that Liberia's post war political leadership is deafening its ears to the sound of the enormous pounding. If there cannot be change under this administration, presided over by most of the country's acclaimed social justice advocates, Liberian journalists should perhaps brace themselves for the worse.

Aside from the fact that ordinary security officers physically attack journalists and the operating environment remains limited, there have been instances where high ranking officials directly assaulted and threatened journalists.

In CEMESP's 2009 report, "Intimidation: The renewal of censorship in Liberia", eighteen cases of physical threats, deterrent lawsuits and administrative actions were used to prevent the media from carrying out its work. In releasing the report, CEMESP challenged the government "to endeavor to allow people to listen to and understand the truth which must set the Liberian person free."

However despite this appeal, and even in the wake of this report, there have been worse circumstances and recurring themes, involving officials as high as the Acting City Mayor of Monrovia and again security forces.

Since the report, CEMESP has issued at least five alerts, including two involving security personnel, arbitrary arrests and outright harassments.

But beyond raising claims about attacks on the media, CEMESP has introduced dialogue among media practitioners and security forces to understand the role of each other, and to as well work together in complementing the roles of each other.

Also, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, CEMESP recalls that there remains on the dockets of the Liberian Legislation three bills intended to reform the Liberian media. These laws were deliberately submitted on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2007(8) and have been there with little action. We therefore use this occasion to renew our appeals for the passage of these laws.

We call upon the legislature and the government as a whole to be reminded, like former World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn said, that "If you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring change."

In furtherance of our campaign, we would like to recall the words of James Madison, former United States President: "A popular government without popular information, or means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."

In the end of it all, there is one consensus: Liberia still lags behind in fully guaranteeing freedom of the press. Unless the attacks cease, and moribund laws are erased from the books, Liberia's development may continue to suffer proportionate damage and the road to recovery will remain rocky.

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