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Liberian Internet Site Announces Coverage Boycott of President Sirleaf's Office

A popular U.S.-based Liberian Internet Website says it has begun a coverage boycott of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 's Executive Mansion and the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism.

In observance of World Press Freedom Day over the weekend, FrontPage Africa says it has stopped covering news conferences, speeches and all announcements and activities about President Sirleaf's office and the ministry of information because gaining access to these events has proven to be difficult.

But acting minister of information Cletus Sieh (no relationship to Rodney) said the Sirleaf government is an advocate for press freedom and would not muscle the press.

FrontPage Africa Publisher and Editor Rodney Sieh told VOA the boycott was necessary because the Sirleaf government has either denied or ignored repeated requests for accreditation to weekly news briefings or presidential press conferences.

"For some time, our website has been very pro-active, aggressive in terms of exposing corruption and ills in the Liberian society. And apparently some forces in the government have felt that we are anti-government, and they have continuously labeled us as anti-government forces. Last week, the president made a trip to Gbarnga, Bong County, and one of our reporters tried to get on the bus and he was rejected. And he had to get on the bus taking the police escort to go to Gbarnga. Even with all that, we still manage to continue publishing the Executive Mansion press releases, the ministry of information presses. But we feel that if they want to control what we publish, and they will not allow us access to the Executive Mansion press conferences and news conferences and stuff like that, we might as well not carry anything from them," he said.

Sieh said he has made known his concerns to the Executive Mansion and the ministry of information.

"I've discussed this issue with the Press Union (of Liberia) President, Mr. Quoiquoi (Peter); I've communicated with the Executive Mansion and with the ministry of information; I've made the president's office aware about the boycott," Sieh said.

He singled out Minister of Information Laurence Bropleh and other responsible for President Sirleaf's public relations of creating a what he called a 'brick wall' between his organization's work and the President's office.

"There are some forces in the government who have the perception that we are anti-government forces, and they feel that giving us access to certain places we would may write negative stories about the government. But that's not the case. All we want is a chance to report objectively and carry stories that would reflect the condition in Liberia today," he said.

Sieh again denied that his Website was only interested in publishing negative stories about the Sirleaf government as some of the President's aides have reportedly claimed.

"We are just trying to change the mind set, change the conditions in the country through our work and expose the ills in our society because over 250,000 people died in this country because of the war (Liberia's civil war). On April 12, 1980 people were executed on the South Beach because of corruption. And we try to do our best to expose these things, and some people feel that we are a threat to them, and this has to stop," Sieh said.

Acting minister of information Cletus Sieh (not related to Rodney Sieh) told VOA the Sirleaf government is an advocate for press freedom and would not muscle the media.

"Let me assure him that the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government has declared corruption as public enemy No.1. No one is going to be harassed or intimidated because of their reportage of corruption and all of that. The government most of the time tells journalists that look, you have to be balanced in your reporting. And with all of these excesses that come from of these journalists, no newspaper has been shot down, no radio station has been shot down, no one has been taken to court because we stood for press freedom, we stood freedom of expression and all of that. So this government is not going to muscle the press in any way," Cletus Sieh said.