Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Liberia
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 2005|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Liberia, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566e2c.html [accessed 22 May 2015]|
Conditions for the Liberian press have greatly improved since President Charles Taylor stepped down and accepted exile in Nigeria in August 2003 amid a bloody rebellion. Taylor's departure paved the way for peace accords between the main rebel groups and the government, bringing relative stability to the country. However, years of civil conflict and brutal repression under Taylor have wreaked havoc on the media.
During his six-year rule, Taylor ruthlessly cracked down on opposition parties and civil-society activists to consolidate his power, and he used a combination of censorship, intimidation, and brutal violence to keep the press corps in line. In 2003, with fighting intensifying between Taylor's forces and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), the local press largely shut down as journalists went into hiding for fear of being targeted by either side or hit in the crossfire. Several media companies were attacked and looted during the war, and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment was lost or damaged.
As part of the 2003 peace accords, Gyude Bryant, a former businessman and activist for democratic reform, was chosen to head a transitional government composed, in part, of representatives from rebel groups and former members of Taylor's government. In his inauguration speech in October 2003, Bryant declared, "This government will encourage and exercise the freedom of speech and of the press, which constitutes one of the basic tenets of good governance."
However, stark challenges remain. While no journalists were imprisoned in 2004, many faced criminal charges under repressive laws. In January, four journalists and a former business manager from the private weekly Telegraph were accused of "criminal malevolence," a charge sometimes used by members of Taylor's government to harass aggressive journalists. The charges were brought over an article alleging that National Security Minister Losay Kendor had embezzled public funds. The case was referred to the Criminal Court and remained pending at year's end.
In July, the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) pressed criminal malevolence charges against Editor Crispin Tulay and Associate Editor Cheechiay Jablasone of the private Monrovia-based weekly Vanguard. The charge stemmed from an article accusing the LPRC of using an illegal oil deal with the West Oil Company to finance "Taylor's terror machine," according to local sources. The case was transferred to the Criminal Court and was still pending at year's end.
In October, 140 media experts and local journalists attended the National Conference on Media Law and Policy, hosted in Monrovia by the Information Ministry, the Press Union of Liberia, and UNESCO. Among other recommendations, participants stressed that criminal sanctions for press offenses should be removed, in line with international standards. Participants also recommended that an effective self-regulatory mechanism be established to monitor the media. Following the conference, an expert group was convened, including government members, to work on legal reforms.
Since the end of Taylor's regime and the violent conflict that accompanied it, threats and attacks against journalists from government security forces and other groups have decreased considerably. However, while security for journalists improved significantly in 2004 as U.N. peacekeepers extended their control across the country, a number of attacks were reported.
In February, a member of the former rebel group LURD assaulted Mike Jabeteh, a reporter for the private Monrovia-based daily The Analyst. The assault occurred in the town of Tubmanburg, west of Monrovia, where Jabeteh had gone to cover LURD's ongoing voluntary disarmament. According to local sources, the LURD member accused Jabeteh of "reporting bad things" about LURD's civilian leader.
In August, another Analyst reporter, J. Nathaniel Daygbor, was beaten by a police officer when he tried to report on a scuffle between a resident of his neighborhood in Monrovia and a U.N. soldier. According to local news reports, the officer was suspended for one month following an investigation by the Justice Ministry.
With a national literacy rate under 50 percent, according to UNESCO, radio is Liberia's most important source of information. In September, local journalists were alarmed when the privately run Ducor Broadcasting Corporation (DC) suspended its news director, Raymond Zarbay. According to local sources, the suspension stemmed from a report that transitional government head Bryant was booed during a trip to Buchanan, south of Monrovia. Local journalists associations protested the suspension, pointing out that DC Chief Executive Officer Fred Bass Golokeh was one of Bryant's advisers. Zarbay resigned in October, characterizing his suspension as "illegal and only intended to deny the public needed information for their survival and to suppress press freedom."
In November 2003, Bryant lifted a three-year ban imposed by Taylor on the immensely popular Star Radio, an initiative of the Switzerland-based Hirondelle Foundation, which has won several awards for its media development projects in conflict zones. Despite hopes that the station would reopen in 2004, a lack of funding prevented it from going back on the air.
In addition to attacks on the press, local journalists say that financial difficulties and a lack of training are the largest obstacles they face. Despite several internationally funded training projects, a significant number of journalists have not received any formal journalism training, according to local sources. In addition, the country's bleak economic situation means that few media outlets are profitable.
2004 Documented Cases – Liberia
JANUARY 16, 2004
Posted: February 4, 2004
Philip Moore Jr., Telegraph
Adolphus Karnuah, Telegraph
Robert Kpadeh Jr., Telegraph
Rennie Moses, Telegraph
Rudolph Gborkeh, Telegraph
Editor-in-Chief Moore, Managing Editor Karnuah, and Subeditor Kpadeh, all of the private weekly newspaper Telegraph, were arrested and brought to the Magistrate Court in the capital, Monrovia, where they were charged with "criminal malevolence."
Additionally, Rennie Moses, a former business manager for the Telegraph, and Rudolph Gborkeh, the newspaper's chief reporter, were charged in absentia. Moore, Karnuah, and Kpadeh were released the same day, and later paid the equivalent of about US$5 each in bail.
The charges stem from a story published in the Telegraph on December 30, 2003, which alleged that National Security Minister Losay Kendor embezzled US$15,000. According to journalists at the newspaper, the article relied on sources from within the National Security Ministry. Kendor joined Liberia's newly inaugurated transitional government after an August 2003, power-sharing deal aimed at ending more than a decade of civil war. He has not yet been confirmed by Liberia's legislature, the journalists said.
The case against the journalists is currently pending in Monrovia's Magistrate Court. Jerome Verdier, the journalists' defense lawyer, told CPJ that the charge of "criminal malevolence," which falls under Liberia's criminal code, has never been used on a Liberian journalist before. The crime carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, Verdier said.
FEBRUARY 9, 2004
Posted: March 4, 2004
Mike Jabeteh, The Analyst
A member of the former rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) assaulted Jabeteh, a reporter for the private daily Analyst newspaper, which is based in the capital, Monrovia.
The assault took place in the town of Tubmanburg, about 25 miles (40 km) west of Monrovia, where Jabeteh had gone to cover the ongoing voluntary LURD disarmament. The disarmament is being overseen by LURD's civilian leader, Sekou Damate Conneh. According to local sources, a LURD member known as "Number Seven" approached Jabeteh, who was standing with a group of other journalists, and accused him of "reporting bad things about the chairman [Conneh]." Jabeteh frequently reports on LURD activities and is well known to local LURD members, according to Stanley Seakor, managing editor of The Analyst.
Seakor told CPJ that the accusation probably stemmed from an article published in The Analyst in December, 2003, which reported that Conneh had been detained in Conakry, capital of neighboring Guinea.
Number Seven then physically assaulted Jabeteh, beating him until his ears bled. Jabeteh later received medical care in Monrovia, Seakor said.