Criminal Court C’s order against media is an attempt to suppress information from the people

By Kai Toteh | December 4, 2013 |

It is the government’s responsibility to stop or preempt information that it believes to be classified and which circulation poses greater danger or threat to the nation. If the government can prove such information undermines national security and social and economic interest, the government must be clear about it by pointing out the particular danger or threat concern it raises.

But last Sunday, an order from the Criminal Court C at the Temple of Justice was circulated among the media. That order reads: “You are hereby further prohibited from holding any radio program, including TV talk-shows, publication, broadcasting or disseminating by radio, press and electronic media, any interview, discussions or tapes and or any recording, made by Ellen K. Corkrum while serving as Managing Director of the LAA which directly or indirectly touches on this case.”

The court has the right to give order prohibiting any information from any form of dissemination but must state why. Failure to do so, the court’s order shall be considered arbitrary and a censorship.

Criminal Court C in its logic for the order said: “The recording unleashed by Corkrum incited the interest of both Liberians home and abroad and also the international community.” The logic for giving this order, according to the Liberian Constitution, is vague and is intended to cow the media. It is also a gross violation of the constitutional right of media practitioners and the Liberian people—the right to give and receive information according to Article 15 (a) and (b).

Article 15 (a) states: Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.

Article 15 (b) states: The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.

From all indications the tape and or recording in question does in no way pose any danger or threat to the nation and people. Rather, it offended and continues to offend certain people in government, according to news reports. And because certain people are offended the same people are now trying to suppress the information contained in the tape recordings.

Based on investigation and analysis of the recordings, it is believed that the recordings contain vital information that needs to be disseminated to the people, because the people have the right to know. The recordings by Ellen Corkrum revealed the “Presidency and other senior officials of government are engaged in misconduct and other issues of economic and national security implications.”

The truth holds that where there is a smoke there must be a fire. Given the numerous reports of corruption, misuse of power and other malpractices by government officials, information concerning government must be allowed to be circulated, and it is government’s responsibility to investigate the information to find out it is true or false, and in other instances and by law investigate the source of the information.

As a nation of law, it is government’s duty to distinguish which materials should be made public or should not be made public. However, the determination should not be arbitrary like what Criminal Court C has done. There should be a legislation to determine classification of information whether as sensitive, classified or secret before being circulated. Anything outside this procedure would imply infringement of the freedom of information Legislation that is in force.

Therefore, we conclude by calling on Criminal Court C and the appropriate authorities to reverse this order, because in all its proposition, violates the right of the people to be informed and the right of the media to inform the people about what government officials do good or bad.

Moreover, there is no law in the Liberian Constitution that prohibits individuals from secret recording and circulation of the secret recording on one hand and there is no law that prohibits journalists or the media from getting hold of the recording for the consumption of the citizens, provided the recording is not offensive.