Press Union of Liberia to Deliberate On Media and the Law

(Internews supported the media law conference described in this article from AllAfrica.)

The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) President Abdullai Kamara is craving a playing field that will enable Liberian journalists to practice their craft in a peaceful and conducive environment void of intimidation and other forms of censorship.

The PUL continues to advocate for the repeal of criminal defamation/libel laws which are enforced by what is infamously known as Decree 88A; the establishment of an effective self-regulatory body for journalists in Liberia and the establishment of an independent broadcast sector regulator.

Other issues that the PUL has been advocating for are the sustainability of community radios; the future of UNMIL Radio, the status of the Liberia Broadcasting System vis-à-vis Public Service Broadcasting.

These are the same concerns that PUL boss Kamara will be taking to a two-day Media Law Reform conference that will be addressed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Kamara hopes the conference will develop a road map to renew advocacy and lobby on these key instruments.

President Sirleaf will today deliver the opening address at the conference, which takes place in Lakpazee, Monrovia.

Several Liberian lawyers, members of civil society and the media practitioners are expected to make presentations at the conference under the theme "Liberian Media & the Law."

Kamara, in a PUL release over the weekend, said "the conference is guided by the broad partnership that prompted the successes of the previous initiative," and further indicated that it is meant to support a future for media freedom and accountability,

President Kamara and previous PUL presidents before him as well as some eminent media practitioners have persistently called for the establishment of an effective self-regulatory body for journalists in Liberia and the establishment of an independent broadcast sector regulator.

The media is currently regulated by the Liberian government, which many say does not have to vet would be media house owners before granting licenses which makes the PUL powerless to revoke licenses of transgressors.

"It is government that gives out licenses to media houses, but when journalists transgress the government calls on the PUL to investigate and punish violators. How can we stop media houses from violating their code of ethics if we don't have the power to punish them? These are the things to work on in order to strengthen the Liberian media," an official of the PUL once said at an event.

The conference today is intended to renew discussions on the current legal and regulatory regime governing the Liberian Press, as well as encourage amendments and repeals that will ensure that the Liberia legal/regulatory environment conforms to 21st Century realities, and those of a genuine democracy.

Kamara, in the release, said the Liberian media is presently facing aggressive and unprecedented use of anti-speech legislations by public officials and private citizens; and sedition, criminal libel against the President and criminal malevolence are frequently used. The Media Law

Reform conference is, however, meant to address these pitfalls in the Liberian media.

The conference is organized by the Press Union of Liberia, in partnership with the British Firm Albany Associates as part of the Liberia Media Development (LMD) Program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The LMD is being implemented under the leadership of Internews, with PUL, LMC and Accountability Lab as the main national partners.

Meanwhile, participants at the conference will also discuss ways to strengthen self-regulation in the Liberian media as a means of promoting professional standards and media accountability.

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