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Libel Suits with Huge Penalties on the Rise in Liberia

  • James Butty

Press Union of Liberia president Peter Quoiquoi says he hopes the sudden rise in libel suits is not intended to silence the independent media

In Liberia, lawyers for the print and online editions of FrontPage Africa newspaper go to court Wednesday to answer a $2 million libel suit brought by former Liberian agriculture minister J. Chris Toe.

Toe claims FrontPage Africa libeled him by printing false and misleading information about him.

The court appearance comes as a civil law court judge Monday upheld a $900,000 libel verdict against the New Democrat newspaper for committing ‘libel per se’ against Consolidated Group, one of the companies of former President Charles Taylor.

Peter Quoiquoi, president of the Press Union of Liberia said his organization hopes the sudden rise in libel suits is not intended to silence the independent media.

“I do know that our country is currently in a fight against corruption and the media has been in the forefront of the fight, but now the media itself is being fought. We have seen at least three lawsuits. Our hope is that these lawsuits are not intended scare the media away from reporting some of these corruption cases,” he said.

Quoiquoi said his comments should not be misconstrued as condoning bad press in Liberia.

“I’m one person who believes very strongly that the way to correct the problems that we have in the media is to begin to hold some media people accountable for what they write. As much as we want to do that because it has to do with the reputation of institutional individuals we should also be guided against making the media shy away from reporting those vices that brought this country to its knees,” Quoiquoi said.

He said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently issued an executive order to protect whistle blowers, and he said the Liberian media are also playing the role of whistle blowers in the fight against corruption.

Quoiquoi said it is unreasonable for Liberian judges to award huge monetary awards for libel given the economic situation of the Liberian media.

“As far as I know the economy of the media in our country is so terrible that I’m not sure that any media institution in this country can even pay a $100,000 fine for such a case,” he said.

Quoiquoi said it should be difficult for any public individual or corporation to prove libel unless in the case of a reckless disregard for the truth.

But he said he was reserving any judgment while the Liberian Supreme Court considers an appeal from the New Democrat newspaper.