“Safety First” says IFJ as Media Come Under Fire in Liberia

The International Federation of Journalists today expressed fears over the situation facing journalists working in Monrovia, as levels of violence and destruction continue to escalate in the Liberian capital.

On July 19 and July 21, Patrick Robert, a French photojournalist for Time magazine and Tom Masland, Newsweek's African regional editor were injured while on assignment in Monrovia.

The situation for journalists in and around the city has become increasingly dangerous since the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels launched the most recent incursion on July 19. Most Liberian journalists have taken cover for fear of being targeted or hit in the crossfire. Currently no independent newspapers are publishing and all independent radio stations in Monrovia have ceased broadcasting.

“Even veteran journalists must be extra careful about their movements, as all colleagues are at risk”, said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The IFJ is calling on both foreign and local journalists already involved in covering this struggle to exercise extreme caution and is urging media companies to keep their people out of unsecured areas “This is a moment when safety must come before the story,” said White..

On the basis that a ceasefire is called, and peacekeeping troops are deployed, the IFJ is calling on the forces of the US and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to give priority to the protection of all journalists and media staff covering the development of this conflict.

“Journalists, especially freelances, are under tremendous pressure and they face terrible risks if they don’t keep their distance”, said White. “With hundreds of civilians now dead, and rebel groups growing more anxious to grab possibly their last chance to forcibly remove Charles Taylor from power, the situation for all journalists remains highly dangerous.”

Since July 2002, the Media Foundation for West Africa claims there have been 135 cases of press-freedom and human rights violations by the government in Liberia. In this respect, the IFJ continues to support efforts by its affiliate in Liberia, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), in dealing with this hostile environment, which journalists and other media staff are working in.

Further information: + 32 2 235 22 00

The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries