Mano River States celebrating World Press Freedom Day in Monrovia
Media professionals from Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire joined their Liberian counterparts on 3 May 2012 to celebrate gains and demand full freedom of the press. Hundreds of media professionals were marching in Monrovia to mark the World Press Freedom Day. The rally and parade, which began from the headquarters of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), ended at the University of Liberia, where a debate on freedom of information took place between students of mass communication.
The parade and debate were preceded, on 2 May, by a Mano River Union regional conference, where discussions were held on the status of media freedom in the Mano River Union States under the global theme, New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies. The conference addressed various topics, among which:
- Journalism, peace and democracy: How to use media freedom to improve the democratic development of a country; and
- The role of the media in transitional environments and fostering of accountability.
At the conference, reporters enthusiastically applauded when Liberia’s Information Minister, Lewis Brown, announced that the government would soon appoint a commissioner to oversee implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), adopted in 2010. “In addition to the appointment of the FOI commissioner, the Liberia government will sign the Table Martin Declaration, a law that decriminalizes media infractions,” stated Brown. Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was a recipient of last year’s Friend of the Media award from the African Editors Forum, the first for a sitting president.
Conference participants also welcomed remarks by a spokesperson for the Sierra Leone Minister of Information, A. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo. The Sierra Leonean official, E. Kwame Yankson, announced that adoption of the 2012 bill on the Right to Access Information is on track for passage next week by his country’s legislature.
Speakers and panellists from UNMIL, UNESCO, the European Union, the Centre for Media Studies and Peace-building (CEMESP), and the three Mano River States, in attendance, addressed media ethics and laws, the importance of media professionalism, peace journalism, the role of women in the media, and the transition from traditional to new media. In addition to the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), a sponsor of the event, various journalists from large and small media outlets, including community radio stations across the country, outlined the need for continued dialogue with their government to further legislate on media laws. In Liberia two pending bills, one to establish the national broadcaster and the other on community radio laws, are being considered by the Senate.
The World Press Freedom festivities in Monrovia are sponsored by UNESCO, DANIDA and the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), in collaboration with IREX, the Press Union of Liberia, the UN Peace Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and other partners and sponsors, including Sting Communications, Coca-Cola and Cellcom. The events will culminate with a PUL media awards ceremony on Friday, 4 May 2012, at Corina Hotel in Monrovia.
The festivities were made possible through a grant from DANIDA to UNESCO in connection with the strengthening freedom of information in the Mano River States project. This Pilot project has made great achievements, thus far. Not only has the Freedom of Information Law been enacted in Liberia, there has also been mobilization of stakeholders on mechanisms to ensure its effective implementation. An important component of the project is the media sustainability training as well as the Media Business and Sustainability (MBS) Exchange programme, which is held monthly in Monrovia for media managers and business leaders.
The Mano River Union includes Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. These countries have undergone tremendous changes in the past decade, some of which have resulted in harsh conflicts that have caused not only displacement of populations, but also the death and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of people. These countries are now grappling with the situation to ensure stability within the framework of democratic governance.
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