On May 9 2013, Liberian journalists – under the banner of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) – took several actions in response to disparaging and threatening remarks made against journalists. The remarks were made at programs marking the annual observance of World Press Freedom Day in Buchanan, Grand Bassa county on May 3, 2013 by the director of the Executive Protection Service (EPS), Mr. Daniel Othello Warrick.
Mr. Warrick described media personnel as terrorists and threatened to move on them, if they question the integrity of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
“Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians. Be careful, because you have your pen and we have our guns. And if you incriminate the character or integrity of Liberians, like myself, we will come after you,” Warrick said at the gathering.
The PUL is outraged and alarmed that, since the reckless comments – which have further brought to question this government's commitment to upholding press freedom, democracy and the rule of law – there has been a glaring silence from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and all sectors of the government.
Journalists see this development as risky and troubling; it indicates the wanton disregard that the government and its security forces have for journalists and the free expression of ideas and opinions.
We fear that the lack of response to such a condescending and threatening statement by a senior security functionary points to approval by the president and threatens freedom of expression, highlighting impunity against the media.
A a result of a May 9, 2013 mass meeting, the Press Union of Liberia has taken the following initial measures in response to the EPS' threats:
- All independent newspapers will print black front pages with appropriate inscriptions to protest the threats and insults by Mr. Warrick and the insensitivity shown to the public so far by the president.
- Radio and TV stations will express their protest by suspending broadcast for 2 hours, from 9:00 – 11:00 am daily beginning Friday May 10, 2013 followed by replay of Warrick’s threat and the PUL response.
- As journalists feel unsafe in the presence of presidential guards who threaten their lives, correspondents assigned by media houses to cover the presidency are being withdrawn.
- There is a news blackout imposed on the Liberian presidency until there can be expressed and established guarantees for the freedom and safety of journalists across the country and an end to media impunity.
- The PUL is holding consultations with lawyers to explore the possible pursuit of legal action against the EPS chief for “terroristic threats”.
- The PUL will further consult with the Africa Editor’s Forum which, in 2011 recognized President Sirleaf as a Friend of the Media, to consider a public withdrawal of the award in response to the threats that this “friend” is condoning threats the future of journalism in Liberia.
Meanwhile, other options within the framework of media freedom shall be pursued if need be, the Press Union of Liberia statement concludes.