Gov’t To Reform Libel Law, Others

As the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) observed 49 years of existence, the Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Information and Tourism, Norris Tweh has assured journalists that much has been done in reforming the Libel Law so that it is handled in the Civil Law Courts instead of the Criminal circuits.      Celebrating with members of the Union under the theme, “The Media and the Constitution,” in Kakata over the weekend, Mr. Tweh said to establish the various categories to place those offences would be the beginning of the process of identifying a strategy to passing those laws and that includes looking at the libel law and the decriminalization of hate speech adding that the government has been working on those laws for a couple of years.

He said the government is working on having all offences that falls within the various categories listed, placed in the bill and sent to the National Legislature for enactment. He cited a person who is charged for libel and is being prosecuted in a criminal court.

Minister Tweh said the intent of transforming the bill is just trying to move it from a criminal category to a civil category aimed at making those laws stable noting that the government of Liberia affixed its signature to the Mountain Declaration last year, its own the commitment to decriminalizing hate speech.

He told this paper that the government has already completed the Libel Law, the Broadcast Regulatory Act and the Act to establish the State-owned broadcasting system as an autonomous agency and upon resumption from its agriculture break, the Executive will present those bills to the Legislature for proper enactment.

Meanwhile, panel discussants spoke to the general topic with diversity about how the media is to aid the Constitution Review Committee in simplifying the National Constitution as well as making it conform to present day realities.

A panel discussant, Atty. Alphonso Zeon said the Liberian Constitution has 193 years history of its existence and it reflected then the perception of the citizenry thus exposing it to weakness but following over 20 years since amendments were made, there are still more that needs to be done in perfecting the instrument to address the aspirations of the people.

Atty. Zeon outlined that 74 percent of the people crave for tribal unity while others want national reconciliation established constitutionally thereby making it a matter of must; yet others desire that the  national budget allocate a share or percent to each county instead of relying on the social development fund which comes from concession agreements.

He added that the anxiety develops when such funds are unable to be shared to every county because it has to meet the corporate social responsibility of the concessionaire while the county development funds are for administrative policies.

He said the National Constitution should also address the election of local leaders and that there should be no limitation on the rights of the people to know what the government is doing while he commended the passage of the Freedom of Information Act terming it as the best instrument for transparency and accountability.

The managing editor of the Inprofile Daily Newspaper, Carlton Boah suggested that the constitution be taught by the media to fully educate or guide the public who depend mostly on the media for information.

Also serving as a panelist, Mr. Boah said the Constitution should enforce that appropriate media laws are enacted to support free speech because bad governance leads to civil unrest and panelist Fredrick Cherue called for the media to be fully utilized by the Constitution Review Committee if it must be a responsible advocate for good laws.

Earlier, the chairperson of the Review Committee, Gloria Scott urged the Union to take a few minutes to reflect on the national context and see where Liberia is as a nation and people. She reported that since the CRC began its mandate to review the 1986 constitution in 2012, it was noticed that copies of the constitution produced by the CRC to be freely distributed was sold in the ELWA Community for as little as LD 50 and in the Virginia community for LD 150 thereby creating a shortage.