Freedom of the Press Under Attack Again!

By Kate S. Peabody

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 15, 2004

Chairman Gyude Bryant's press conference on C-Span last month was impressive. In the name of peace, I had made up my mind long before he came to the United States that I would give him the benefit of the doubt as head of the Liberian National Transitional Government.

And when I heard him speak, I thought, there, we do have a chance of reclaiming our country again. With cautious optimism, this has been the feeling of many of my circle of friends. We desperately want to see our country gradually get back on a good footing toward creating a decent future for our children.

But recently news coming out of the country has been somewhat disconcerting, especially one that concerns freedom of the press.

The attempt to muzzle the press in any fashion cannot and should not be tolerated. In a press release disseminated by the Media Foundation for West Africa in Accra, Ghana, the Liberian government recently ordered the closure of the Informer, a local newspaper.

According to the release, the Deputy Information Minister for Administration, Bernard Warrity offered that the paper was shut down because it was not registered with the Ministry of Information.

This ludicrous notion needs to be discontinued immediately. When we seek extraordinary ways to limit the press, we essentially put a clamp on the voices of the people. Clearly, it appears this is what the government is intending here.

After the repressive government of Charles Taylor, as we struggle to establish a free society, the press ought to serve as the voice of the people.

The Ministry of Information should never be used as a propaganda machine for this government or any future government.

History is bound to repeat itself in a wicked way, if we forget so quickly. Chairman Bryant risks squandering the goodwill he has received from the Liberian people and others around the world if he opts to travel down this slippery slope.

Liberians would and should reject any form of censorship of the press. And just as the MFWA has done, I implore the Bryant government to reverse itself and allow the Informer to operate freely.

As we move toward bringing meaningful change to the country, more than ever the press is needed to play an integral role in the process.

But the media itself must also be accountable for information disseminated. And disgruntled public officials, or for that matter ordinary citizens also have the right to take action if they feel they are being unfairly targeted.

Options range from seeking retractions to pursuing legal recourse, if need be. To take the matter one step further, people can also respond via commentary or opinion pieces on the very pages of the newspaper.
If Liberia is to realize real change, public officials ought to be ready for fair and balanced scrutiny.
Conversely, it is important that the press practice responsible journalism and disseminate the news with objectivity.

Still, under no circumstances should the media be bullied into submissiveness by the government.
Soon enough, if a newspaper is not worth its print, it will suffer the consequences by losing its audience.
But the government should not be employing stringent measures to prevent media outlets from operating.
It was a travesty under the Taylor government.

It would be abhorrent under this or any future government, especially as we struggle to create a new climate in Liberia.

There are those of us who plan to return home, contribute to the Liberia and practice our craft without any fear of intimidation and restraints.

Either abandon this transparent requirement or set some concrete ground rules to ensure that the playing field is even.

About the Author: Kate S. Peabody is a Liberian living in Gainesville, Georgia.