WAJA Slams Liberian Media Attack, Regional Ebola Outbreak

Flashback: WAJA President Peter Quaqua (middle) Sierra Leone Journalists Association Vice President Stanley Bangura (Left) and Press Union of Liberia Secretary General D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh at a WAJA conference in Cotonou, Benin in July to discuss the working condition of journalist in West Africa
Flashback: WAJA President Peter Quaqua (middle) Sierra Leone Journalists Association Vice President Stanley Bangura (Left) and Press Union of Liberia Secretary General D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh at a WAJA conference in Cotonou, Benin in July to discuss the working condition of journalist in West Africa

The West African Journalists Association (WAJA) has extended its condolences and solidarity with the governments and peoples in the sub-region affected by the Ebola outbreak, and calls on the media to double its support in fighting back the virus.

WAJA says the media is under social and ethical obligation to serve the greater good of humanity in these critical times of heightened fear of death caused by the rapid spread of the disease in the region.

 While noting the extraordinary efforts of the media so far in disseminating behavioral change messages, WAJA challenges authorities to manage the aggression of the virus carefully as it poses greater threat to the health and stability of the entire region.

 The sub-regional media body is therefore calling on the media in non-affected countries to get seized of the emergency by providing public education to their population to prevent the outbreak of the disease. So far the disease has killed over one thousand, one hundred people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization.

 WAJA President Peter Quaqua said, “It is our collective responsibility to prevent the spread of the disease, but state authorities have the greatest responsibility in providing hope for the suffering people in these difficult times.” 

 Mr. Quaqua said it is understandable that the rapid spread of the virus is causing panic across the region, but governments are under obligation to manage the anxieties of their citizens and not to escalate their worries.”  

 WAJA says its attention has been drawn to the unfortunate closure of the National Chronicle Newspaper in Liberia and joins its affiliate, the Press Union of Liberia in calling on the Government to rethink its decision.

According to the Press Union of Liberia the action is “a further expression of intolerance and an unwarranted attack on the free press, and calls upon President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to

immediately denounce this action… and reopen the National Chronicle.”

 Dozens of armed police acting without court order on August 14 violently seized the paper in an operation that caused panic in the streets of Monrovia.  The Paper’s publisher, Philibert Brown informed the Press Union in a complaint that three trucks load of heavily armed police from the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), threw tear gas in the office before breaking the door to the main entrance. The police is said to have taken away “two laptops and arrested two of the paper’s senior staff,” according to Mr. Brown.

 The police action followed a series of publication by the paper including one on the alleged formation of an interim government to replace the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration. 

 Two days after the police action, the Ministry of Information wrote a letter to the Publisher on August 16 suspending the operation of the paper pending the conclusion of ongoing investigation by the national security.

 Without dismissing the ethical and “urgent national security concerns” of the government, WAJA says no unethical action justifies another. The media rights group says it is worried that the Liberian Government is stayed keen on using coercive power to control the media even when the courts are open. 

 A release says the Liberian Government needs to understand that no moral lesson is taught when arbitrary action is the option.  While identifying with the frustration of government in containing the disease, WAJA said the government cannot afford to demobilize any segment of the society in fighting the disease and should not therefore use the state of emergency as an alibi to aggravate an already worsening crisis.

 At the same time WAJA calls on the media to exhibit the highest extent of professionalism at all times, including these trying times, however critical the story might be to preserve the public good.  

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Author: D K Sengbeh

Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh (author of Sengbeh's Weblog) is a respected and renowned Liberian journalist, poet and writer with with journalism experience since 2001, of working both as a mainstream journalist and a communication/media consultant in Liberia. He is Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia (elected Dec 2013). He was Assistant Secretary General of the Union Dec 2011 to Dec 2013. He is also Editor-In-Chief of The Informer Newspaper—one of Liberia’s credible dailies. Before joining the Informer, Danicius had served as reporter, chief reporter, sub-editor and News Editor at The Independent Newspaper between 2002 and 2006. Before then, he was reporter at the defunct Patriot Newspaper and Kiss FM 2001-2002. Danicius is a UN Media Fellow and Liberia’s first UN Medal Award-winning journalist for his contribution to journalism and for being the second Liberian journalist in 15 years to qualify for and successfully attended the United Nations’ Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalist Fellowship Program in New York and Geneva, Switzerland in 2012. He earned a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Mass Communication and Sociology from the University of Liberia and a Diploma in Journalism from the International School of Journalism. He holds several awards and recognitions both in and outside of journalism, and carries dozens of certificates in journalism and communication from studies in Ghana, China, United States and Switzerland, among others. He volunteers as Chair of the Information and Communication Committee of his local Bardnersville community. He can be quickly reached via (+231) 886586531/777586531/777464018/ dakasen1978@yahoo.com

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