What with newspapers being forced to suspend print versions, the solicitor general’s threats to shut down media outlets that spread “fake news” and physical attacks, the state of emergency proclaimed by Liberia’s government to combat the Covid-19 epidemic is proving to be a major headache for the country’s journalists.
The latest increase in tension came on 2 May after deputy information minister Eugene Fahngon and the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) clashed over the issuing of new passes that allow journalists to be outside during the 3pm - 6am curfew imposed by the government in an attempt to contain the epidemic.
The minister accused the PUL of massively duplicating the passes he had already issued. The PUL denied the minister’s claim and accused him of taking a unilateral decision simply to obstruct the media’s reporting.
The PUL said it would not make journalists comply with the ministry’s new rules for obtaining a curfew pass and insisted they should just have to show their press card, whether the one issued by the union or the one given to them by their media outlet.
“Liberia has yet against demonstrated its propensity to obstruct journalists’ work at the height of the coronavirus crisis,” said Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office. “This measure is not only arbitrary but also dangerous for journalists’ safety. The information ministry cannot use any pretext to arrest journalists and prevent them from doing their investigative reporting.”
During a radio broadcast, Fahngon warned journalists they would be arrested and prosecuted if they did not have his ministry’s press card. He also visited checkpoints in the capital, Monrovia, to tell police to arrest any journalist caught without a pass.
Liberia is ranked 95th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF’s Wold Press Freedom ranking established in 2020.