President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has renewed her government's commitment to the principles of free speech and freedom of the press.
The president said all Liberians must be allowed to speak freely and the media be protected in its quest to inform, educate, entertain and to some extent, conscientize the people.
Addressing the third commencement convocation of the United Methodist University in Monrovia, President Sirleaf observed that some media houses are doing severe damage to the noble profession of journalism by allowing the pages of their newspapers and the contents of their broadcast to be contaminated by messages that have little or no information or redeeming social values.
Some media institutions, President Sirleaf cautioned must cease to be agents of character assassination and instrument of blackmail.
Sensationalism the President regretted, has replaced sensitization, while in some cases, "outright lies and half-truths are preferred to accuracy and truth." Good professional ethics have been substituted for "checkbook journalism and kato," the Liberian Chief Executive observed.
The press, the Liberian leader maintained, should be a mirror of the society and the watchdog on the activities of government and big businesses; adding " a key question of concern for us today in Liberia is who will watch the watchdogs? A watchdog that barks aimlessly is worst than a watchdog that does not bark at all."
Despite the declining standards of the Liberian media, President Sirleaf noted that there are still many good and honorable journalists and credible media institutions. She commended those media institutions and their personnel for upholding the principles of the profession.
The Liberian leader therefore called on the Press Union of Liberia, the Liberia Publishers Association and other watchdog organizations to step up the pace and set an enforced level of professionalism and ethical conduct that will restore the standard of nobility that journalism deserves in the country.
"I understand that mass communications is now one of the areas in which UMU is offering courses of instruction. I urged those of you who have chosen this academic discipline to learn the profession well and be the torchbearers who will rescue Liberian journalism from the grips of those who have chosen to pollute this noble profession for personal and pecuniary gains;" the Liberian chief executive added.
At the commencement convocation about 161 candidates from the four colleges of the United Methodist University, who having satisfactorily fulfilled all the requirements and programs prescribed by the university, were awarded the Associate and Bachelor Degrees in various disciplines.
From the College of Health Sciences 15 candidates were granted the Associate of Arts Degree while the College of Theology put out 29 graduates; the College of Management and Administration, 103 candidates and the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, 11 graduates.
The degree of Doctor of Philosophy in International Relations, honoris causa was bestowed on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, while a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa was also bestowed on Bishop Joseph C. Humper, Resident Bishop of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference, United Methodist Church and member of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.
In his reflection on the academic year 2005/06 UMU out-going President Dr. J. Oliver Duncan described the year as difficult but one that was strongly supported by the United Methodist Church Bishop John Innis and the Board of Trustees and his administrative staff as well as the student body of the university.
He said as the result of the support given to the J. Oliver Duncan administration the learning process for the over one thousand students was conducted smoothly.
Dr. Duncan also said despite these difficulties of diverse forms, which his administration experienced, the university continued to exist as the light of the world.
In his reaction to the President's statement about the Liberian media, Press Union of Liberia(PUL) Secretary General Alphonso Zeon said the statement was made out of frustration because the media is not dancing to her tune.
Mr. Zeon said the statement which has the propensity to ridicule the media is an attempt to censor the press.