LIBERIA: Change the narrative of news context of the court …Chief Justice Youh cautions Media Practitioners

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As the National Association of Trial Justice(NATIJ) hosts its first African Regional and International Judges Conference, Chief Justice Sie-A- Nyene Youh has cautioned media practitioners to change the narrative of news context of the court.

Speaking on the topic “ The Judicial in Contemporary Times, Dispensing Justice in the New Information Age,’’ Chief Justice Youh said media institutions have a huge impact on how the public perceives justice regardless of the status of the nation.

With the sole responsibility to disseminate information that influences the public perception about the justice system, the media should report with factual information from authentic sources.

Chief Justice Youh emphasized that the mass media must be a positive influence on the justice system by enhancing public awareness, scrutiny, transparency, and accountability of internal operations of the justice system while serving as an intermediary between the courts and the public but in many cases they are not performing such task.

Pointing out cases that the media discussed and rendered their opinion as guilty and picturing the judge ugly, the Chief Justice mentioned the most publicized cases involving U.S Citizen Lucas K. Richard who was indicted for aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit murder with second degree felonies.

Based upon Liberia’s population, which stands at 5.5 million and half of the population comprises of youthful used the media and rendered judgement of guilty even before the judge ruled.

When the judge ruled in the matter after reviewing the evidence, stating that the state did not prove the charges as alleged in the indictment and rendered the defendant not guilty.

The media- practitioners, bloggers, influencers and other media began to denigrate the Judge along with the entire Judicial Branch of Government without gathering the judge final ruling.

Another familiar example of how the media influence public perception of justice is the US$100 Million Drugs Case at Criminal Court ‘C’. After hearing the case, empaneled Jury found the defendants not guilty on all charges due to that public attention and reactions, the then Minister of Justice used the media to criticize and ridicule the entire Judicial Branch of Government. He described the ruling against the state as worrisome and shameful to free hardcore criminals in the face of overwhelming evidence and that the Judiciary compromised.

Based upon his statement, the public described the Judiciary as corrupt branch of government.

“It is time that we change the narrative and create media contents that are well-researched and that reflect the true happenings of events in the institutions covered instead of publishing sensational stories merely for fame and likes or in the case of youthful Liberia, just to prove one’s relevancy, although there is none to begin with,” Chief Justice stressed.

She continued that, “I believe the enormous influence that the media wields especially in most democratic societies must be used to propagate or disseminate factual information from authentic sources. This is not always the case.”

The Chief Justice mentioned that these kind of reportage hit the public because some individuals lack effective oversight/supervision on social media platforms which is one of the most significant gar changer in Mass Communication or Mass Media. That act denting public confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.

“This assertion is supported by the fact that the issues surrounding free-speech, and checks and balances are overwhelmingly abused by online reporters who conveniently substitute accurate reporting for misinformation and sensational headlines…Not all of those reporting and posting have any formal or informal training in mass communication as to the damaging effect their actions have on that innumerable population segment,” she noted.

Furthermore, understanding of the working of the courts is practically non-existent, and the courts cannot be teachers of the law, whether procedurally or otherwise but those lawyers representing their clients have the responsibility of dealing fairly explaining the pros and cons of their case vis a vis the law, and not to create the false impression that their clients’ plight lies squarely within the discretion of a judge and not on the law.

“The new information or digital age is powerful, it is rapidly expanding and it is here to stay with its “idea that access to and the control of information is the defining characteristic of the currant era in human civilization.” She added.

Making remark at the conference, the Vice President of Liberia – Jeremiah Koung applauded the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia for organizing and hosting such Annual African Regional Group Conference.

Mr. Koung said with the digital revolution reaching some of the most remote villages, information emanating from capital cities has become accessible to people faster than ever before.

He said information goes widely based upon the society advent of the new information age.

Pointing out some effective way of communication to the public quickly, the Vice President stated that d various social media platforms have created a digital town hall to echo the views and aspirations.

“This new dispensation places a greater onus on our judicial systems across Africa, as we strive to build institutions which promote equity, opportunity, and uplift our nearly 1.5 billion people on the African Continent out of poverty. It is important to note that in order to maintain a government that works in the interests of its people, that government must be accountable to said people. The Judiciary, which is responsible to dispense justice, remains consequential to accountability of a government to its people. Judges who are tasked with the responsibility of dispensing justice, must strive to ensure that justice is administered fairly, upholding the rule of law.” He said.

He emphasized such new Information Age, Judges should remain critical to the functioning of a society.

The executive of the principles of law underpins the rule of law and must ensure access to an independent judiciary that guarantees the protection of the rights of all under the law.

‘‘Where the rule of law is not upheld, it breeds discontent which in turn may lead to disruption and instability. As a government who believes the rule of law being the pillar for governance, the Boakai’s administration will support to safeguard the adherence to the rule of law and the equitable dispensation of justice,’’ the Vice President intoned.

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