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Thursday, April 18, 2024

PRESS UNION OF LIBERIA’S CONSPICUOUS SILENCE ON ILLEGAL CLOSURE OF CONCORD TIMES’ WEBSITE RAISES CONCERN

Date:

Charles Coffey, President, Press Union of Liberia

LIBERIA – It’s over two years since Steel giant ArcelorMittal allegedly masterminded the closure of one of Liberia’s leading investigative website-Concordtimes.net. which was run by Concord Times Newspaper in Monrovia.

Recently, an International media rights group, Reporters Without Borders raised concern about the prolonged shutting off of the website, while the Press Union of Liberia sleeps. This raises serious concerns about the union’s deportment.

Smart News Liberia has learnt that the editor of Concord Times, Lyndon Ponnie, complained about the closure of his website to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL); and that the Union investigated the case.

During the proceedings that took place at the Headquarters of the Union and presided over by its President Charles Coffey, ArcelorMittal admitted ordering the removal of the website’s contents which it considered unfavorable.

ArcelorMittal did not only say it in the face of Charles Coffey, PUL’s President, but it also wrote the Union admitting the act.

The PUL took no action even at a time when the culprit admitted to committing the offense, which raises serious concerns. What’s going on at the PUL? There are different tales of what transpired.

The website had reported a series of articles that allegedly exposed ArcelorMittal’s dirty deeds in acquiring a mining deal in Liberia.

In a letter to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) in October 2020, ArcelorMittal acknowledged asking the host of the Concord Times website to remove alleged defamatory articles but denied asking for the entire website to be suspended.

This assertion was also repeated in a face-to-face meeting between Ponnie and ArcelorMittal’s representatives during a hearing with the President of the Press Union of Liberia, which took place at the headquarters of the PUL on Clay Street in central Monrovia.

From all indications, it appears the present leadership of the PUL subjugated the interest of one of its senior members, in favor of the Luxembourg-based steel giant for peculiar gains. Two years and running, the press Union has neither spoken nor issued a statement on this diabolical behavior by ArcelorMittal.

Instead of taking the case to court, Schillings, the lawyers of ArcelirMittal based in the UK, set about identifying the company responsible for hosting the Concord Times site and eventually arrived at a London-based company called LiquidNet, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

In a letter addressed to the British host on 17 September 2020, of which RSF has a copy, ArcelorMittal’s lawyers demanded the withdrawal of the articles on the grounds that their defamatory nature constituted a violation of the host’s service agreement.

RSF says such an approach is quite unusual in cases of alleged defamation by means of the press, but it proved dramatically effective.

LiquidNet not only complied by deleting the offending content but, less than two weeks after receiving the letter, it ordered the complete closure of the Concord Times site. In record time, a media outlet and all its archives had been removed from the Web.

The journalist concerned was never questioned and no reference was made to a court. The news site’s investigation into ArcelorMittal was no longer accessible and the company had been spared a court case with an uncertain outcome.

The Press Union of Liberia was founded on September 30, 1964, by a group of independent journalists. It serves as an umbrella organization for media professionals and institutions to advocate for press freedom and the legal protection of journalists in Liberia.

History tells us that formation of the very union was based on the arrest of another Journalist(s). And independent Journalists operating at the time felt uniting under a single umbrella would make them stronger, thus the formation of the PUL.

But things have since changed for the worst under the Charles Cuffey regime at the PUL. That the Press Union would not even mention the closure of a very leading Liberian website as a violation even at a time ArcelorMittal admitted to the transgression in its reports spining more than two years, is so despicable and embarrassing.

If the Press Union could not speak on the illegal closure of the Concord Times website on instructions of ArcelorMittal, what is then left of the Charles Cuffey administration at the Union?

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Smart News Liberia is an online news outlet and a product of Smart Media Group Inc. Our website, smartnewsliberia.com, covers a broad spectrum of news content. For inquiries or information, you can reach us at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or email us at smartnewsliberia@gmail.com or info@smartnewsliberia.com.

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