However, since that time, the parliament has been slow to implement the changes that would see criminal defamation repealed. WAN-IFRA and the DoX campaign’s local partners, The Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) have been working to ensure the criminal codes are repealed. A full stakeholders’ meeting was held in early 2014, but the outbreak of Ebola has meant that the changes have yet to be seen. CEMESP symbollicaly presented a new bill to the Liberian parliament in November 2014.
WAN-IFRA, CEMESP and the DoX campaign is hopeful that the bill will be debated in parliament soon.
President Sirleaf said, “We are signing the Declaration of Table Mountain in order to underscore our message loud and clear, to advance a free press and freedom of expression, not just in Liberia but the entire continent of Africa,” President Sirleaf said at a signing ceremony attended by 200 people, including diplomats from Nigeria, the United States and Germany.
The Minister for Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Lewis Brown II said: “On the eve of our 165th anniversary of independence, our country is going through an exciting transition into a future of hope and opportunity, and signing the Declaration of Table Mountain is an important step in this transition to make our country freer, but keep us accountable”.
The Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws across the African continent, was adopted at the World Newspaper Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007, the annual meeting of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).
“By signing the Declaration, President Sirleaf is showing her genuine commitment to freedom of the press as a basic human right, as well as an indispensable constituent of democracy in Liberia”, said Roger Parkinson, Senior Ambassador and former president of WAN-IFRA, who attended the signing ceremony on behalf of the organisation.
The vast majority of African nations continue to jail journalists and close media houses on charges of defamation or for “insulting” authorities or their policies. The practice prevents legitimate public discourse and critical writing and leads to self-censorship. In 2010, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a resolution calling for criminal defamation laws to be abolished.
The Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Pansy Tlakula, said the signing by President Sirleaf “will not only put press freedom high on our agendas, but will also encourage other stakeholders to ensure that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed and realised. A step forward would be for States Parties to repeal criminal defamation and libel laws from their Constitutions and other national laws.” Her full statement can be read here: www.wan-ifra.org/node/61129
The Declaration, which also calls for a free press to be higher on the African agenda, can be found at www.declarationoftablemountain.org
Malcolm Joseph, Executive Director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) in Liberia, said: “By signing onto the Declaration of Table Mountain, the government of Liberia has taken a key and positive step towards expanding the environment for a free press to flourish.”
Other members of the international delegation attending the signing ceremony included Liberian press freedom hero Kenneth Best, representing the International Press Institute, IPI, Peter Quaqua, President, Press Union of Liberia, Alison Meston, WAN-IFRA Director, Press Freedom and Amadou Kanoute, WAN-IFRA Senior Consultant Africa.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakol Karman of Yemen. The women were recognised “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
The Declaration of Table Mountain is part of an ambitious strategic partnership between the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and WAN-IFRA to advance media development and press freedom worldwide. The partnership allows WAN-IFRA to broaden and develop its press freedom and media development activities to support free and financially sustainable media worldwide. For more on this work, please consult http://www.wan-ifra.org/pressfreedom.
WAN-IFRA, based in Paris, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, with subsidiaries in Singapore, India, Spain, France and Sweden, is the global organisation of the world’s newspapers and news publishers. It represents more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. Its core mission is to defend and promote press freedom, quality journalism and editorial integrity and the development of prosperous businesses.
Director, Global Campaigns
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers