Human Rights Lawyer Cllr. Tiawon Saye Gongloe has seriously blamed jailed Journalist Rodney Sieh for not exhausting the appeal process embedded in the legal system of the country. Journalist Sieh, Publisher and Managing Editor of the Front Page Africa Newspaper has been in prison for a little over 40 days after he was held liable in a libel suit brought against his paper by former Agriculture Minister, Dr. Chris Toe.
Cllr. Gongloe, one of the panelists at yesterday’s 2nd Editor Forum, under the auspices of IREX said journalists should at all time have at the back of their minds that all citizens are covered under the rule of law which means they are to be treated equally like anyone under the law.
Cllr. Gongloe said bad reporting or reporting on falsehood and not the truth can seriously damage ones reputation just as trial by ordeal (Sasawood) and stressed that it is important for journalists to base their work on the truth.
Addressing the forum at the University of Liberia Auditorium on the theme “Free speech and Libel: How Journalists can protect themselves from lawsuits”, Cllr. Gongloe openly volunteered to defend any journalist or a newspaper that will be taken to court for a libel case.
Touching on the Rodney Sieh case, Cllr. Gongloe said he is angry with Journalist Sieh for not exhausting the appeal process by taking his case to the Supreme Court, saying “maybe during a hearing of his case, the famous “New York Times Versus Sullivan Case” could be evoked and the case could be a re-trial or the penalty seriously reduced.
The Human Rights Lawyer said Journalist Sieh did not follow the law and that is why he is in the current situation. He said it was an opportunity to repair some undemocratic media laws on the books in our country. However by not taking an appeal he lost that chance and has to wait for another opportunity.
Cllr. Gongloe said the Rodney Sieh case is finished and no other court can hear it anymore; not even the ECOWAS Court.
He said such a case could be a case study to make people caution in filing libel case; even the President of Liberia who cannot be sued once sued for US$5m.
The other panelists at the forum, Ms. Korto Reeves –Williams, ActionAid Country Director and Mr. Abdulai Kamara, a Media Development Consultant spoke about the challenges faced by journalists and stressed the need for journalists to be truthful in telling their stories if they must avoid libel suit or win same when they are brought against a journalist.