Comprehensive reform of Liberian media law is called for at a national conference on media law reform hosted by the Liberian Government with assistance from the Partnership on Media and Conflict Resolution for West Africa.
The National conference on Media Law and Policy Reform was organized by the Partnership, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-Liberia), and the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). Support was provided by International Media Support (IMS), Open Society Institute, and Ibis-West Africa.
In its closing session, conference representatives called on the Liberian government to repeal all statutes that criminalize freedom of expression and the press within six months.
“It will be incumbent upon the executive and legislative branches of government to ensure that outdated laws are repealed and enact only new laws that meet international standards of freedom of expression and of the press,” Conference representatives said.
The main aim of the conference was to review all laws and policies which have implications for media practice in Liberia, and to develop a comprehensive program of action for the reform of the legal and institutional frameworks for the media.
IREX Europe Development Director Mike de Villiers returned to Monrovia to participate in the conference, particularly to provide assistance to reform of legislation affecting the broadcast media.
Following working group discussions by government and local media representatives, as well as international advisers from the members of the Partnership, final recommendations have been drawn up. These include:
The conference organizers will name a Working Group that will include government members and media stakeholders who will work together to see if meaningful legal reform can be achieved during the duration of the interim-government.
An Independent Regulatory Body should be created to monitor, protect, enhance and ensure the smooth operation of a sustainable broadcasting media in Liberia.
The government should turn the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS) into a public service broadcaster.
An independent Board of Directors should be democratically selected by parliament and civil society to oversee management of the LBS.
A Freedom of Information Act, which will give members of the public, including journalists, a right of access to records and information held by public bodies, subject only to legitimate exceptions, should be enacted as soon as possible. All other laws which unduly restrict the right to information, such as the Media Commission Act, should be amended to reflect the principles of maximum disclosure of information under an access to information law.
The desire by government to own a print media be discouraged. Rather, government should be encouraged to establish an enabling environment for professional competition in the media sector.
The Media law reform project is part of a joint effort led by the Partnership to coordinate media related reform in Liberia. This also involves the establishment of the Liberian Media Centre which completed registration of new statutes on October 22. Those statutes were developed with IREX Europe and Partnership support in September 2004.
The Partnership is also assisting coordinate and organize election related trainings in the lead up to crucial national elections scheduled for October 2005.
IREX is using its own private funds to finance its support to the Partnership for Media and Conflict Prevention in West Africa, which includes the following international and regional institutions, as well as a number of national partners:
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Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Ibis - West Africa
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
International Media Support (IMS)
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Open Society Institute (OSI)
PANOS Institute West Africa
United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO)
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)