18 January 2013

Liberia: Senator Predicts Dangerous Free Speech

At a two-day Liberia Media Laws reform roundtable in Monrovia, Bong County Senator Henry Yallah has warned that freedom of expression is being overly emphasized and overly used [in Liberia] to an extent that "if we are not careful, sooner or later there might be trouble everywhere."

Making remarks at the Mamba Point Hotel on Thursday, Senator Yallah said as Legislators, they are [concerned] about how the media work is ongoing in Liberia, saying some of the print media publications are contrary to captions.

"You will see the sentiments in the report. People use the media to get at personality. It's becoming so terrible. I am taking interest in this regulatory act; and we can hope that we can find a way to see how the media will understand that their reports will need to be clear," said the Bong Senator.

Though he assured that the Senate remains committed to legislating laws that will give the media the opportunity to work freely, he however suggested that the instruments submitted before the 52nd Legislature by the Liberian media should be resubmitted before the 53rd Legislature in line with the rules of the senate.

He however applauded the media here, saying it is "doing very well in many places," such as carrying campaigns that have to do with the lives of the people, among others.

"Most especially the community radio stations, they need attention because our people in the rural areas depend on them for information, since most often they do not listen to what comes from Monrovia," he noted.

Other speakers at the roundtable included Information Minister Lewis Brown; House Chairperson on Broadcasting and Information, Representative Richmond Anderson; Press Union of Liberia President Peter Quaqua, as well as representatives of UNMIL, UNESCO and IREX, among others.

Minister Brown reaffirmed the Liberian Government's commitment to working with the media, disclosing that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will shortly present before the Legislature the removal of criminal libel, sedition, and menace, among others from the laws of Liberia. Minister Brown however cautioned that "it's not just passing laws, but our reflection on those laws and their enforcement" matter.

He further assured that just as the Liberian Government leaves regulatory responsibilities with lawyers and doctors within their respective professions, the government will equally leave regulation of the media with journalists themselves, and will not go after "joint the list" (meaning unprofessional journalists).

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