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CEMESP hosts dialogue on media security

(CEMESP/IFEX) - Monrovia, April 11, 2011 - The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), with support from the National Endowment for Democracy, has concluded a one-day media and security dialogue in Monrovia.

Speaking at the day's event on April 7, 2011, CEMESP Executive Director Malcolm Joseph said the forum was intended to discuss and find a way forward against the persistent wave of brutality meted out against journalists carrying out their duties.

Mr. Joseph indicated the program was initiated in 2009 to address the growing wave of security attacks on journalists. He believes the continual acrimonies between journalists and state security are based on ignorance. In his keynote address, Liberia's Associate Justice Cllr. Kabineh Ja'neh said journalists covering court proceedings are only allowed to report on the procedure and must refrain from handing down a perceived verdict.

He considers reporting on cases and offering opinions to be pre-judicious and contemptuous under the laws of Liberia. Addressing a cross-section of media and security personnel present at the dialogue, Justice Ja'neh maintained that Liberia's constitution exonerates no one who violates the law.

Citing article 15 of the Liberian constitution, which protects the right to freedom of expression, he reminded the press about the abuse thereof. "Writing on a court matter can be done in a reasonable limit as cases are determined based on procedure and merits."

Ja'neh also pointed out two reasons for the recent decision by the Supreme Court to incarcerate "Front Page Africa"'s editor–in-chief, Rodney Sieh, noting that his "action was a reckless disregard of the truth" and "a complete contravention of the Press Union of Liberia's code of conduct". He then accused journalists of running the court in their newspapers. Associate Justice Ja'neh spoke on the theme, "Strengthening Media Freedom to further Democracy in Liberia".

Also making remarks at the day's forum, Press Union of Liberia President Peter Quaqua said he viewed the 30-day sentence againt Sieh as heavy-handed. Mr. Quaqua condemned the use of force by state security in an attempt to disperse peaceful citizens who assembled to express their grievances. He added that journalists who cover such incidents stand the risk of being beaten as well.

"While it is true that police have their roles and responsibilities, they should not create conditions that will prevent journalists from obtaining their news, " Quaqua said.

Information Minister Cletus Sieh said that he believes media freedom should occupy a greater portion of Liberia's national existence as the country goes through 2011 general and presidential elections in October. Minister Sieh warned that no society functions well when the security and the press are at loggerheads as a good media environment paves the way for a secure state. "The Government of Liberia has given unprecedented support to the Liberian media," he said.

He admitted that capacity building opportunities have been awarded to his ministry staff but promised to revisit his action and focus on the general media community. The government Chief Spokesman wants journalists to exert themselves.

The program brought together security and media practitioners. It was supported by the National Endowment for Democracy and convened at the YMCA in Monrovia.

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