22 January 2013

Liberia: Lawmaker - Freedom of Expression Is Overly Used

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Broadcasting, Senator Henry Yallah, has asserted that freedom of expression is being overly used in Liberia. Among other things, Article 15 (a) of the Liberian Constitution states that every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof.

According to him, freedom of expression is being overly-used and emphasized by Liberians, including media practitioners. He made these comments recently at the start of a two-day round table discussion on Liberia Media Laws Reform held at the Mamba Point Hotel in Monrovia. The discussion was organized by the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) in partnership with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the Liberia Media Center (LMC).

It was sponsored by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) and IREX and held under the theme: "Charting the Way Forward for a Better Liberia". Sen. Yallah warned that there would be "trouble" across the country if the public as well as journalists are not careful in the manner and form in which they disseminate information.

He reminded the public and journalists to exercise constitutional rights under Article 15 in a responsible manner. He frowned on the negative use of the media by others to satisfy their own interest. "People use the media to get at personalities, this is so terrible. Some of the publications in the print media are contrary to captions. Freedom of expression is being over used and over emphasized to the extent that if we are not careful sooner or later, there will be troubles everywhere," the Bong County Senator further warned.

However, Sen. Yallah pledged his committee's support and commitment to working with media practitioners to ensure the smooth passage of media bills at the Upper House. Senator Yalla also commended Liberian journalists for the pivotal role they continue to play in the country's rebuilding process. He called for adequate support to community radio stations adding that, "they are widely listened to."

Giving an over view of the discussion, the President of the Press Union of Liberia, Mr. Peter Quaqua, said the roundtable was intended to bring back on the table bills that were submitted in 2004 to the Legislature.

He recalled that three bills, including the Independent Broadcast Regulator and the one seeking to make the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) a Public Service Broadcaster were crafted and subsequently submitted to the Legislature when the Media Conflict Prevention Conference in West Africa was hosted in Liberia.

He added that the suspension of LBS Director General, Mr. Darryl Ambrose Nmah, and the closure of four media outlets during the 2011 electoral process as some of the factors that prompted the submission of the bills.

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