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Media Must 'Put Country Above Self'

LIBERIA

MONROVIA - Anyone committed to a freer, more productive, and higher quality news industry in Liberia must also commit to curbing the common ethical failures that have eroded freedom of speech, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told a gathering of media stakeholders in Monrovia last week.

Ms. Sirleaf offered the government’s full partnership in a reform agenda whose goal is to equip and empower local media not just for sustainability but to wield the tools and skills that enable them to place country above self.

"This administration," President Sirleaf emphasized, "has made significant contributions to the administration of media respect and sustainability. Among which is the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act of 2010 – for which I was honored as 'Friend of the Media' by the Africa Editors’ Forum."
 
Sirleaf asserted that, as a result, Liberia's record on media and speech rights is enviable among its peers in West Africa.

She also acknowledged the worldwide labors of the gathering's organizer Internews, which aims to empower media in more than 90 countries to be more accountable, responsible and professional in their service to their country.

The president challenged local media to critically examine themselves and whether current practices of flouting existing regulations harms the country's democratic development.

“Our political tolerance is manifested by allowing freedom of speech as a fundamental civil liberty and sine qua non of democratic value system, and as such never before have we seen the multiplicity of newspapers and proliferation of radio stations - some of which have violated our laws by continuing to be unregistered and non-tax compliant, some in the promotion of politics rather than journalism,” President Sirleaf indicated.

She wondered, “What does our country seek to benefit when the watchdogs watching over society remain unregulated? ... The media must first be accountable in as much as they demand accountability."

The president reaffirmed the importance of the 2012 Table Mountain Declaration, saying it was and still is in the public's interest to repeal the sedition laws and criminal libel laws. She admitted the process has been slow, but it has included civil society organizations. 

"Let me commit to you that this matter will be brought to closure within 60 days,” she assured.

The Liberian executive urged media "to act in recognition of the power you have in shaping minds and changing attitudes, shaping public opinion – mobilizing communities for community development – fostering reconciliation, building and helping to sustain the peace.”

She said we believe that “a constructive media, while reserving the right to independence and the role of a watchdog can promote or destroy the environment for private investment and economic growth, which results with benefits to all, including the media.”

She thanked Internews and partners for an initiative that will scrupulously examine the media and law in the country and for their assistance in growing and cementing democratic gains.

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