Press Union Hurriedly Convenes Congress Amid Threats of Court Injunction

MONROVIA, Monrovia – The Press Union of Liberia hurriedly announced the start of its elective congress on Thursday, amid signs that the congress may suffer from a court injunction.

The congress was originally announced to run between Friday and Saturday, November 8 and 9, 2019, but the union issued a statement on Thursday announcing the kickoff of the event. However, due to poor attendance, the union postponed the event until Friday.

Facia Harris, who had intended to contest for the group’s presidency, was disqualified by the union’s election committee. She had issued a statement earlier this week threatening to seek external intervention into her disqualification, which she said was an error on the part of the committee.

Harris’ statement followed the failure of a hearing between the parties called by the National Media Council. The council was established to self-regulate the Liberian media to ensure adherence to the code of ethics for journalists.

In a November 6 press release, the council disclosed that it did not conduct the hearing because of the absence of members of the elections committee.

“In a letter on November 4, 2019, the [elections committee] informed the NMC of its inability to appear before the Council due to ‘overwhelming electoral matters.’  As a result of its absence, the NMC could not proceed with hearing the matter,” the council said in the release.

It said its mediation process is solely based on the voluntary consent of disputing parties, therefore, it could not hear the matter.

The hearing was called after Harris complained to the council of being wrongly disqualified to contest in the elections. Harris said although she appeared with her legal representative for a scheduled November 5 hearing, the council did not have a quorum to have a sitting, as only three of its seven members were present.

“This is sad and unfortunate, also because members of the Council present informed us that the body does not have sanctioning power to enforce an outcome of the hearing and that our appearance before it is voluntary,” she added.

She called for the support of members of the union in solidarity of her next course of action, although she did not clearly say she was going to court over the matter.

The Female Journalist Association of Liberia also issued a statement on Wednesday expressing disappointment in the failure of the National Media Council to handle the concerns raised by Harris.

“We are indeed baffled that if the NMC had prior notice of the EC’s absence at such crucial meeting, why did it not notify Team Harris and the concerned parties about the EC’s excuse, yet had all parties present including the legal counsel of Ms. Harris; which for us was a serious waste of time,” FEJAL said in its statement.

“Now that the elections are expected to be held on Saturday, November 9, 2019, which comes in a couple of days, we are using this medium to reiterate our disappointment over Ms. Harris’s calculated disqualification from the process due to an obsolete law that even the EC is finding hard to justify and as such has cleverly boycotted all mitigation processes aimed at ensuring due process for the aggrieved by their gross absence from Tuesday, November 5, 2019 meeting scheduled by the NMC.”

The organization, which is an auxiliary group of the Press Union, has disputed the disqualification of its members.

Featured photo courtesy of Facia Harris

 

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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