Attacks, Threats, Ethical Violation of Journalists and Lawsuits Impacting Journalism Landscape in Liberia
MONROVIA – The Press Union of Liberia (PUL) has unveiled its latest Media Alert Report, a critical component of its ongoing commitment to safeguarding the rights and well-being of media practitioners throughout Liberia. The report serves as a beacon against impunity and underscores our dedication to preserving the freedom of the press across our nation.
The Media Alert Report documents attacks, threats, ethical violation of journalists and lawsuits impacting journalism landscape in Liberia. This activity is a flagship program of the Press Union of Liberia since 2015. See full report below
From January to the present date, 2023 has been marked by a series of disturbing incidents involving journalists in Liberia, including physical attacks, threats, and lawsuits. These incidents have raised concerns about press freedom and the safety of journalists in the country.
The methodology calls for the collection analysis of local dailies, monitoring of some radio stations (news and talk shows) and the receipt of direct complaints.
Cases of threats and attacks are verified by on the troubled spots assessments, conduct of remote/virtual interviews with independent sources in areas where journalists and media workers are reported to have been threatened or attacked and civil society actors are mainly contacted. At the same time, the Press Union of Liberia’s Media Alert Office also contact PUL Coordinators in the fifteen (15) political subdivision of the country, as part of its tracking process.
Attacks on Journalists:
- Joseph Tumbey (New Democrat Newspaper)– On August 8, 2023, Joseph Tumbey, a journalist with the New Democrat Newspaper, was brutally attacked by a Sierra Leonean soldier in Monrovia. The assault occurred while Tumbey was covering the arrest proceedings of the former Sierra Leone Police chief, who was accused of conspiracy within Sierra Leone’s borders. A widely circulated video on social media showed Tumbey enduring physical assault and damage to his phone during the attack. The Press Union of Liberia condemned the attack on Journalist Tumbey and called on the Sierra Leonean Army to investigate and punish anyone found guilty.
- Diamond N. Slanger (Spoon Communication Network)– Journalist Diamond Slanger of Spoon Communication Network was assaulted on the premises of Love Valley Academy on an assignment related to voter registration. Mr. Thomas Bryant, a supervisor at the registration site, physically attacked and assaulted Slanger, despite him identifying himself as a journalist with the necessary press credentials. The National Elections Commission investigated the incident, and dismissed Mr. Bryant’s, the NEC temporary staff.
- Winston Blyden (Bana FM)– On June 6, 2023, journalist Winston Blyden of Bana FM was severely beaten on the orders of Montserrado District #17 Representative Hassan Kiazolu by his bodyguards. The attack was allegedly in retaliation for comments made about the Representative and Joseph Boakai on Blyden’s show. During the assault, Blyden’s belongings were stolen. The PUL issued a statement condemning the attack and as well urging the Unity Party Lawmaker to act in manners that will protect journalists. The Journalists Union also called for a police investigation to establish the veracity of the matter.
Meanwhile, Representative Hassan Kiazolu denied the accusation and vowed to issue writ against the Press Union of Liberia.
- James Myking Suah (PUL County Coordinator)– On March 27, 2023, James Myking Suah, a PUL County Coordinator, was attacked and harassed by a Correction Officer, Thomas Nagbe, during an attempted jailbreak in Barclayville, Grand Kru County. Suah, who was on duty to gather information, had his phone damaged, and his digital recorder got missing during the scuffle.
Threats to Journalists:
- Yawah Jaivey (FrontPage Africa Correspondent)– On February 9, 2023, journalist Yawah Jaivey, a correspondent of FrontPage Africa, received threats after reporting on a leaked audio involving Margibi County Health Officer (CHO) and staff discussing financial corruption. Jaivey raised concerns about his safety after noticing suspicious individuals near his home. His reporting led to investigations and actions against the implicated individuals from the Health Ministry.
The Press Union of Liberia in a statement issued in Monrovia praised Jaivey’s Reporting as groundbreaking and exceptional and asked USAID to investigate its investments in the Margibi Healthcare System.
- Lisa Diasey (Women’s TV-Liberia)– On February 27, 2023, Journalist Lisa Diasey reported threats and harassment from anonymous callers on news of her organization’s coverage of the alleged murder of former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott’s daughter and an alleged fake clinic included in the national budget by Bong County Representative Marvin Cole. The anonymous callers threatened Diasey life and warned that if she continued her reporting it would be disastrous.
Meanwhile, the Press Union of Liberia alarmed on the threat against Journalist Diasey. The Union urged the Police to provide the journalist security during the time of the threat.
- Varney Dukuly (OK FM)– On Friday, March 3, 2023, one of Liberia’s top radio stations, OK FM, notified the PUL of a threat made against one of its reporters, Varney Dukuly, by an unidentified person. The caller’s identity was concealed. The incident happened on Friday, March 2, 2023, at around 1:40 am, according to OK FM. The recent tragedy that occurred at the residence of former Chief Justice Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott and resulted in the death of one of her daughters has been attentively followed and reported on by journalist Dukuly. In its complaint to the PUL, OK FM described how a mysterious caller asked Journalist Dukuly, “Are you Varney Dukuly?” The caller responded “Yes” when Varney answered in the affirmative. You will be made to pay for the article you authored criticizing the government. After Varney questioned who you were, the caller hung up. Varney has covered and reported on the ongoing trial of Gibril Massaquoi in Liberia for OK FM, the Independent Newspaper, and as a New Narrative fellow. The Press Union of Liberia expressed alarm at the speed with which threats against journalists are growing in an effort to reverse advancements gained in press safety and freedom.The Union urged the Liberian Government and its regional and international allies to pay close attention to the growing threats made against journalists in the run-up to the country’s upcoming general election and insisted that they be given all the courtesy and protection possible. Attack Grand Kru County: On March 27, 2023, at about 8:30 p.m. in Barclayville, after an attempted jailbreak, James Myking Suah, the PUL County Coordinator, filed a complaint alleging that Thomas Nagbe, a corrections officer, had assaulted and harassed him. Suah claims that while performing his reporting duties, he was assaulted and harassed; during the struggle, his phone was also broken, and his digital SONY recorder went missing. I also had $300 USD in the phone park. Due to the damage made by the detainees anticipating to escape from the holding cell in Barclayville, I had gone to do my duty as to gather information while capturing the incident scene. Since then, the Union has taken action to stop the situation.
Lawsuits Against Media Outlets:
- Spoon Network– On July 14, 2023, the Civil Law Court ordered the shutdown of Spoon Network, which had been embroiled in a libel suit filed by Wilmot Smith, the former Deputy Director General of the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS). The legal dispute had been ongoing since late 2022.
In reaction to the closure, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) strongly denounced the order by the Civil Law Court to shut down Spoon Network Incorporated, considering it a direct infringement on freedom of expression and the free press. The PUL viewed these action as arbitrary, intimidating, and an attack on the fundamental principles of democracy. The PUL emphasized that the court decision undermines democratic values and the significant progress made by governments to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and free speech. Such actions hinder the development of an open and transparent society.
In its official statement, the Press Union vehemently condemned the closure of the Spoon Network, describing it as a barbaric and harsh decision that seems to carry the venom of a politically exposed person. The PUL firmly believes that this matter should be treated as a civil issue and not a criminal one, highlighting the need for a judicial approach rather than a political one. Former Deputy Director General of the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-information Services (LISGIS), Wilmot Smith is a closed confidante of Finance Minister, Samuel Tweh and a member of the Coalition for Democratic Change.
Radio as Political Rivals & Propaganda Toolkits:
- In the midst of an ongoing nationwide political campaign, political parties have significantly increased their influence over media outlets, particularly radio stations. Here in Monrovia, the capital city, we can see a clear example of this trend, with various political figures and their affiliated parties taking control of key radio stations. This phenomenon has raised questions about the impartiality and independence of these media outlets.
For instance, President George M. Weah has a direct stake in Kings FM 88.5, while Prof. Wilson Tarpeh oversees operations at ABC 105.1. Strong FM 98.3 is under the control of Musa Sheriff, Sen. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence owns Bushrod Radio and Stanton Waterspoon is the owner of the Spoon Communication Network. Sam Saryon, an associate of the Coalition for Democratic Change and Deputy National Security Director, is at the helm of Freedom FM 87.9. Additionally, Christopher Hayes Onanuga directs Kool FM 91.9, which has maintained a close alignment with the Unity Party.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Musa Hassan Bility, a prominent figure within the Collaborative Political Parties (CPP), owns Truth FM 96.1. The State run Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) broadcast ninety (90%) percent of news and information favorable to the political party in power. Content of this radio is not distributed fairly to the public. Controversial of the broadcasters during these political campaign are Freedom FM, Spoon FM & TV, and Kool FM.
In Foya, the local community radio station, Radio Tamba Taikor, has forged an alliance with the opposition Unity Party, led by Joseph Boakai. A rival station, Radio Makona, is being supported by Representative Thomas Fallah, who belongs to the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change. Additionally, Radio Diompelor, which is aligned with the ruling regime, has been accused of disseminating information that favors the government’s campaign. These radio stations recently clashed, leading to complaints from community residents, which were subsequently reported to the Press Union of Liberia. The Press Union of Liberia has recently stepped in, facilitating a virtual conference among the executives of the three radio stations. During this meeting, all parties reiterated their dedication to maintaining peace in Foya and Lofa County. They pledged to prioritize serving their respective communities and leave political matters to those who specialize in them.
These incidents highlight the challenges and risks faced by journalists in Liberia, including physical violence, threats, and legal actions. Press freedom and the safety of journalists remain critical issues in the country, warranting attention and protection from relevant authorities.
About the Press Union of Liberia: The Press Union of Liberia is a non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting and safeguarding freedom of the press, professional ethics in journalism, and the rights of journalists in Liberia. Founded in 1964, the PUL plays a vital role in fostering a vibrant and responsible media landscape in Liberia