-The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation, today expressed concern that the decision to charge a television team with spying in Liberia carried with it "sinister implications for democracy and press freedom." The IFJ says it is the latest in a series of such cases in which Governments crack down on legitimate journalism by spurious allegations of espionage.
"It is easy to accuse journalists of spying," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. "They ask difficult questions, they gather a great deal of information - much of it about the state - and they have to maintain confidentiality.
"But journalism becomes impossible if every time we touch delicate subjects reporters end up in jail with a spying charge hanging over them."
The television team of Insight News, which is part of Britain's Channel Four network, was arrested on August 18 and charged in Monrovia yesterday with espionage. The TV crew of David Barrie and Timothy Lamben from the United Kingdom accompanied by Sorious Samura, a film-maker from Sierra Leone and a South African colleague Gugulakhe face jail for up to ten years if found guilty.
They arrived in Liberia on August 1 to shoot a documentary about Liberia's recovery from years of civil war. Channel 4 strongly denied the charge that their mission was to prepare a media attack on the government.
Although Liberia's deputy information minister, Milton Teahjay, claims the TV crew were using "prepackaged" information to build a case against Liberia, the IFJ said this was a "defensive and exaggerated response to normal and legitimate journalistic inquiry."
The IFJ pointed to similar cases in Cyprus last month where an opposition editor has been charged with espionage and treason and the case of Miroslav Filipovic in Serbia, a journalist sentenced to seven years jail on spying charges three weeks ago. "All of these cases are about nervous governments blaming journalists for their problems and then using absurd legal devices to stifle debate and to intimidate other journalists. It is a trend that is sinister and dangerous for democracy and press freedom," said Aidan White.