9 January 2014

Liberia: 'Government Remains Committed to Free Press and Freedom of Expression,' Says President Sirleaf At Meeting With New Leadership of Press Union of Liberia

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says her Government remains committed to press freedom and freedom of expression in Liberia and will remain focused in ensuring a freer and more democratic society.

The Liberian leader spoke on Thursday, January 9, when she received, in audience, the new leadership of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) at her Foreign Ministry office in Monrovia.

According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf congratulated the PUL officials for their election to the different positions, thanked them for honoring her invitation and also for the democratic process that brought in place the new administration.

She also expressed regret for being unable to attend the induction ceremony for the new officers due to prior national engagements. "My government has been positively engaged with the Liberian press and will continue to do so. We will do so without interfering with or undermining the media's independent watchdog role," President Sirleaf told the media umbrella leadership.

She drew the Union's attention to criticism being received by the Government for not working to remove draconian laws on criminalization upon acceding to the Table Mountain Declaration, but noted that it would require the combined efforts of all stakeholders, including the Press Union itself, civil society organizations and the government to quickly do so. She wondered why the issue was not picked up as it should have been, and pledged the Government's commitment to working with all interested parties to achieve the decriminalization goal.

Continuing her intervention, the Liberian President urged the new PUL leadership to ensure self-censorship with the aim of ensuring professionalism and protecting the innocent who could be victims of wrongful, unprofessional and unethical reportage.

She reminded the media leaders that wrongful and false reportage and actions by some members of the press sometimes undermine the image of the country as a whole and not just the Government. "Private investment attraction is normally hampered by wrongful and misleading reportage. Criticism is and will always be acceptable to the Government, but I believe that such should be professional and aimed at promoting national dialogue for the good of society," President Sirleaf pointed out.

She assured the Union that representatives of the Government's Communication Team will sit with the PUL leadership and find ways to improve the media and its work generally. She also promised that the Government will remain focused on its commitment of creating the space for the functioning of the media, and hoped that they can continuously give vital development information to the people. She concluded by being hopeful of forging a stronger partnership with the Liberian media.

For his part, the new president of the Press Union of Liberia, Mr. Kamara Abdullai Kamara, thanked the Liberian President for the invitation and for the kind words expressed, and informed her that one key role of the Union is to help provide the space for the media to function freely and well. "In my previous roles before becoming president of the Press Union of Liberia, I have worked with the Government through the Ministry of Information and its affiliates along with other stakeholders to ensure partnership on media-related and other national issues. We shall continue to do so for the benefit of the press and the country," the PUL boss indicated.

He noted that the existence of a Media Grievance & Ethics Committee within the structure of the PUL is a clear indication of the Union's commitment to self-censorship and professionalism. He stressed that they are mindful of wrongful reportage and so channels of clarification are available for the public as the media does its work.

Mr. Kamara recognized that training is very critical to the Liberian press in improving the functioning of the media, but acknowledged that funding and support in this regard remains a challenge. He also indicated that the PUL is prepared to work with the Government and other segments of society to address the issues concerning the press, adding that its members are part of a country called Liberia and not the Government or any particular political party. "We will thus talk to everyone, including the Government, political parties and civil society as we do our work," the PUL chief assured.

The PUL President also noted that there can be no functional democracy without a vibrant media and that the media will continue to report the vices of society, as well as provide room for all ideas and voices to be heard.

He concluded that freedom is good and not meant to be used recklessly, and gave assurances that the new leadership and the membership of the Press Union of Liberia remain committed to forging genuine partnership with the Government and all interested parties.

Members of the PUL delegation that met with President Sirleaf included: Kamara Abdullai Kamara, President; Jallah Grayfield, Vice President; Kaihenneh D. Sengbeh, Secretary General; Daniel Nyakonah, Assistant Secretary General; Mrs. Carolyn Myers Zoduah, Head of the Welfare Committee; and Ms. Tete Gebro, of the Sports and Entertainment Committee.

Government officials present were: the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Dr. Edward B. McClain, Jr.; Information Minister Lewis G. Brown; Communications Director Shirley N. Brownell; and Presidential Press Secretary, Jerolinmek M. Piah.

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