Information Ministry orders censorship of coverage of civil war

New York, May 2, 2001 – The Liberian Government announced on April 27 that media reports on fighting in the north of the country and on other issues of national security should be cleared with the Ministry of Information before publication or broadcast.

According to a report by Agence France-Presse, the statement issued by Information Minister Reginald Goodridge described the order as a means of preventing “disinformation that could cause doubt and panic in the public.” As described by CPJ sources in Monrovia, the new rules would institute a system of prior censorship by the government. Local journalists say that, since the government has not declared a state of emergency, the new requirements violate their right to freedom of expression under the Liberian Constitution.

Local journalists also say that the government could use the vague term “national security issues” to censor critical or unfavorable content. In a meeting with Goodridge earlier this week, several heads of news organizations in Monrovia asked the minister to clarify what issues would require government review.

According to the Panafrican News Agency, the order included the threat that “any agency or individual who conveys information to the public that could lead to confusion or panic in the country would bear full responsibility for the source or basis of such information.” Independent journalists fear that such language will encourage more severe official reprisals for reporting on issues of national concern.

In the three years since his National Patriotic Party (NPP) came to power in multiparty elections, Liberia’s President Charles Taylor has become one of Africa’s worst press freedom offenders. Earlier this year, four journalists from The News, an independent daily, were held for over a month on charges of espionage after the paper published an article that questioned government spending on helicopter repairs and holiday souvenirs.