FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

25 August 2014

Liberia: Waja Slams Liberian Media Attack, Regional Ebola Outbreak

The West African Journalists Association (WAJA) has extended its condolences and solidarity with the governments and peoples in the sub-region affected by the Ebola outbreak, and calls on the media to double its support in fighting back the virus.

WAJA says the media is under social and ethical obligation to serve the greater good of humanity in these critical times of heightened fear of death caused by the rapid spread of the disease in the region.

While noting the extraordinary efforts of the media so far in disseminating behavior change messages, WAJA challenges the authorities to manage the aggression of the verse carefully as it poses greater threat to the health and stability of the entire region. The sub-regional media body is therefore calling on the media in non-affected countries to get seized of the emergency by providing public education to their population to prevent the outbreak of the disease. So far the disease has killed over one thousand, one hundred people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization.

WAJA President Peter Quaqua said: "It is our collective responsibility to prevent the spread of the disease, but state authorities have the greatest responsibility in providing hope for the suffering people in these difficult times." Mr. Quaqua said it is understandable that the rapid spread of the virus is causing panic across the region, but governments are under obligation to manage the anxieties of their citizens and not to escalate their worries."

WAJA says its attention has been drawn to the unfortunate closure of the National Chronicle Newspaper in Liberia and joins its affiliate, the Press Union of Liberia in calling on the Government to rethink its decision. According to the Press Union of Liberia the action is "a further expression of intolerance and an unwarranted attack on the free press, and calls upon President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to immediately denounce this action... and reopen the National Chronicle."

Dozens of armed police acting without a court order on August 14 violently seized the paper in an operation that caused panic in the streets of Monrovia. The Paper's publisher, Philibert Brown informed the Press Union in a complaint that three truck load of heavily armed police from the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), threw tear gas in the office before breaking the door to the main entrance. The police is said to have taken away "two laptops and arrested two of the paper's senior staff," according to Mr. Brown.

The police action followed a series of publication of the paper, including one on the alleged formation of an interim government to replace the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration. Two days after the police action, the Ministry of Information wrote a letter to the Publisher on August 16 suspending the operation of the paper pending the conclusion of an ongoing investigation by the national security.

Without dismissing the ethical and "urgent national security concerns" of the government, WAJA says no unethical action justifies another. The media rights group says it is worried that the Liberian Government is stayed keen on using coercive power to control the media even when the courts are open.

A release says the Liberian Government needs to understand that no moral lesson is taught when arbitrary action is the option. While identifying with the frustration of government in containing the disease, WAJA said the government cannot afford to demobilize any segment of the society in fighting the disease and should not therefore use the state of emergency as an alibi to aggravate an already worsening crisis.

At the same time WAJA calls on the media to exhibit the highest extent of professionalism at all times, including these trying times, however critical the story might be to preserve the public good.

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