1 October 2013

Liberia: U.S. Envoy - Liberia Has One of the Freest Media in the World

Photo: FrontPage Africa
FrontPage Africa's Managing Editor Rodney Sieh and his legal advisor, Pearl Bull, walk out of the court.

United States Ambassador accredited to Liberia, Madam Deborah Malac, has asserted that Liberia has one of the freest media in the world.

Against this backdrop, Amb. Malac challenged the Liberian media to exercise complete responsibility in its reportage, especially reportage on sensitive issues that are of national concern and security implication.

She made these assertions Monday, September 30, 2013 at the start of a seven-day training forum for the Liberian media on the oil and gas sector.

The forum, which brings together seven Liberian journalists at the iLab in Sinkor, Monrovia, is organized by the International Institute of ICT Journalism (Penplusbytes). The seven journalists were selected among 40 journalists, who initially applied for the training.

The US envoy's assertions come on the hells of incessant condemnations of the incarceration of the Managing Editor of the closed FrontPage Africa (FPA) Newspaper, Mr. Rodney Sieh, at the Monrovia Central Prison.

Mr. Sieh, a prominent Liberian journalist, was ordered jailed by the Civil Law Court for failing to pay the amount of US$1,534,000.00 and L$10,500 to former agriculture minister, Dr. Chris Toe for damages in a libel suit.

In addition, Mr. Sieh also failed to pay US$90,000 and L$6,800 as cost of the court. It can be recalled that sometimes ago, Dr. Toe sued the Management of FPA in which FPA was held liable for libel and was asked to pay the amount of US$1,534,000.00 to the former agriculture ministry boss.

Dr. Toe said the FPA defamed his reputation when the paper published series of articles linking him to corruption. He said the newspaper got its facts wrong. But FrontPage Africa took an appeal to the Supreme Court of Liberia, but was unable to perfect the appeal bond. Based on the legal proceedings, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court judgment and ordered the bail of Cost on the FPA.

The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of justice in the country.

Despite this ruling against the FPA, the paper has since stood by its story against Dr. Toe, Mr. Sieh has persistently stated that he did not do anything wrong. The prominent Liberian journalist has spent a little over a month in prison at the Monrovia Central Prison.

When he spoke recently at the launch of the "Free Rodney Sieh Campaign", the President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), Mr. Peter Quaqua, averred that the court system had been used to intimidate the media after years of repressive and brutal attacks against the media.

He contended that the ruling from the court was "excessive." He pointed out that the court's ruling to compel the FPA boss to pay the amount of US$1.5M for libel damage is more than the war crime conviction of former Liberian President Charles G. Taylor.

But the US envoy said though there may be some challenges along the way, the Liberian media landscape is one of the freest in the world, reiterating that the media needs to be responsible in its reportage.

"The press has an extremely important role to play in promoting good governance and responsible natural resource management. Thorough and thoughtful media coverage of the extractive industries is important to raise public awareness and facility constructive discussions about the desired path forward," said Amb. Malac.

She among other things added that incomplete or inaccurate reporting of developments in sensitive sectors such as the oil and gas sector, sometimes "inadvertently" inflame tensions and complicate reaching consensus.

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