Journalists fear censorship of war reportage

Monrovia- Liberia (PANA) -- Several independent journalists in Liberia Monday expressed fears that new measures announced by government regarding reportage of the war in the north would lead to "outright censorship.
" The journalists said given the low level of collaboration between the government and the independent press and the growing intolerance on the part of certain officials, the new measures smack a clampdown.
The Information ministry Friday announced "all statements, comments and news" about fighting in the north of the country should be "cleared" by the ministry before being aired or published by the media.
It said the "order" by Information minister Reginald Goodridge also included comments and news about "other issues of national security.
" The measures were intended to "reduce" the potential for the spread of misinformation that could throw the public into doubt or panic as well as to ensure the "government speaks with one voice on issues of national interest," it said.
Government ministries, agencies, individuals, civil and political organizations, the ministry said, were urged to collaborate in "coordinating, verifying and projecting the dissemination of information in the proper perspective.
" The government threatened that "any agency or individual who conveys information to the public that lead to confusion or panic in the country would bear full responsibility for the source or basis of such information.
" But journalists in the country maintain that the measures are in complete violation of article 15 of the Liberian Constitution, which circumscribes any such restrictions only in the case of an emergency.
"The government should clarify whether there is a sate of emergency by which the press should operate, else the press must be allowed to function freely and be held liable for whatever they print or air," notes James King, station manager of a local FM station.
Press Union of Liberia president James Kiazolu told PANA the union was "planning to meet the minister for clarifications on the matter.
" The minister's order, one journalist said, means there would hardly be reports in the media on the fighting in the north of the country except those officially released and approved by the government.
Other journalists, who had gathered at the press union of Liberia office in downtown Monrovia, also expressed concern that the phrase "other issues of national security" was a blanket assertion that leaves journalists vulnerable to the state.

30 april 2001 18:44:00

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