13 May 2013

Liberia: Initial Thoughts On the Press Union of Liberia's Position to Blackout Executive Mansion


The Editor,

I have read with painfully disturbing emotion the statement issued yesterday, May 9, by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) imposing a news blackout against the Liberian Leader for threats allegedly made by the Director of the Executive Protection Service, Mr. D. Othello Warrick during this year's celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

My first contention is that the blackout is constitutionally deficient as it violates Article 15 (c) of the Liberian Constitution, which clearly states that: "... there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries." I think this violation should bother any freedom of information crusader. By this action, members of the PUL are now violating the Liberian people's right to be informed only because of comments by a government functionary that do not amount to any policy decision of the government. This is sad, so we call on the PUL to note that the imposition of a blackout is fundamentally incompatible with the traditional role of the media - which is to inform the public!

Secondly, in all fairness, I do not think there is a need for the PUL to impose such a blackout, when the Government has already written the PUL in a show of remorse, expressing regrets for the less than thoughtful comments of Mr. Warrick. By taking time off to respond to this scenario by the letter of apology and by highlighting the regrets expressed by Mr. Warrick, the government is reaffirming its belief in the centrality of free press and the spread of civil liberties in the country.

In addition, with utmost respect to the PUL, I think they have read Warrick's so called threats far too broadly and now need to soberly reflect on the Government's proven democratic credentials and thus reconsider and recant their decision.

While not wanting to seem defensive, but it is proper to note that in a serious legal situation, a verbal caution not followed by any substantial action cannot be construed as a threat. Furthermore, a background check of Mr. Warrick will not show him as a violent character, so the argument of threats cannot stand in any court of law.

Deputy Minister for Press & Public Affairs

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