The PUL in a special statement issued during celebrations marking the observance of World Press Freedom Day in Voinjama, Lofa County.
“Across the last months, media in Liberia was alarmed by deliberate government comments that threatened the freedom we have variously attempted to celebrate. When the (now former) Attorney indicated that people (journalists) will be charged for spreading lies, we are urgently reminded of the darker days in the 1980s when the infamous decree 88A made the rounds.
When Simeon Freeman was threatened with arrest and Vandalark Patricks actually arrested for sedition, the alarm was higher. We cannot afford to lose all that have been gained. While we may not be very clear why the Justice Minister resigned, we nonetheless feel that the posture he took then does not augur well for democracy, and we urge the government to make a clearer position on this, the PUL said.
The umbrella organization of journalists in Liberia added that irrespective of the challenges put forth at the time, the PUL appreciates that the Vice President, from such a high standing in government would still muster the courage to attend an event of the Press Union of Liberia, especially when it is very clear that we will be discussing these issues.
“The diversity and variance of opinions and thoughts are important attributes of democracy, and any government that aspires to these virtues must protect it,” the PUL noted.
“Speech must be treated as a civil activity, and anyone whether from government or the private sector who feels slighted by speech is justified in seeking civil recourse. We therefore call upon the Government to remain engaged with the PUL and media partners in ensuring the passage of laws that will decriminalize speech offenses,” the Press Union of Liberia maintained.
Notwithstanding this right, the PUL says it remains convinced that taking actions to silence media because they are unduly critical of functions and roles in public affairs weakens the capacity of media to report the issues that could contribute to conflict and bad governance.
“In furtherance of this, the Press Union of Liberia, in partnership with INTERNEWS and the support of the USAID will be organizing a media law conference on 10th and 11th May. It is our conviction that this conference will add upon the engagements of 2004 that led to the passage in 2010 of the Freedom of Information Law. We still believe that a number of laws affecting the media, including Government support for community radio stations, transforming the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System into a public service broadcaster; and the development of an independent broadcast regulator will go a long way into developing the media landscape and making democracy a better call in Liberia,” the PUL’s statement intoned.
The day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, based upon the recommendation of UNESCO's General Conference. Since then, May 3, the anniversary of the "Declaration of Windhoek", is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.
The day was celebrated under the global theme: “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms - This Is Your Right!” and the local theme: “Promoting a Free Press to Ensure Sustainable Development in Liberia.”
The union said, in adopting the local theme, members are guided by the fact that press freedom and the right to information have direct relevance to achieving outlined goals, and can also be seen as implicit goals themselves.
It also disclosed that in line with the modification, reporters visited various locations within the county to report poverty, development, investment and the provision of social services.