Liberia News: LACK OF MASS MEDIA CONTROL DENTING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

…Chief Justice Yuoh Alarms

Monrovia-May-08-2024-TNR:The Chief Justice of the Supreme of Liberia, Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh has said the lack of effective oversight/supervision of competing Social media platforms is one of the most significant game changer in mass communication and the lack of control is severely 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” she noted.

“Not forgetting the fact that not all of those reporting and posting have any formal or informal training in mass communication and do not have the slightest thought or conviction as to the damaging effect their actions have on that innumerable population segment,” Chief Justice Yuoh asserted.

She made the remarks when she spoke on the theme: The Impact of the media on public perceptions of Justice System in the New Information Age. The ongoing conference is being held under the theme: Judiciary in Contemporary Times: Dispensing Justice in the New Information Age.

The Chief Justice made the statement at the ongoing International Association of Judges conference which is being held at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ministerial Complex in Monrovia’s Congo Town suburb, with more than 16 African Countries attending.

The five-day gathering is organized by the African Regional Group meeting and hosted by the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL). According to her, the sub judice rule bars lawyers, party litigants and other individuals from speaking on matters still pending and undermine before the courts.

“Notwithstanding, we observed that mass media institutions continue to discuss matters that are before the courts, rendering opinions as to the guilt or innocence of party litigants and painting a picture of their ruling a judge. This act continues even after the conclusion of trial, when the decision of the court is finally rendered,” Chief Justice Yuoh added.

As example of media influence of public perception’ she said’ the recent decision rendered by the Criminal Assizes “B” first Judicial Circuit, Montserrado in the case Republic of Liberia V. Lucas K. Richards in which the prosecution indicted Lucas K. Richards for aggravated assault and Criminal Attempt to Commit Murder, felonies of the second degree. The private prosecutrix, a young Librarian female. Statistics show that the population of Liberia presently stands at approximately 5.5million, with over half comprising those of youthful age.

In plain sight, it is the fact that the youths are the fanatics of the internet, social media, etc and like any modern society globally, Liberian youths are hooked on this platform.

Imagine therefore, the said case involving a youthful Liberian female. I can tell you that the general public and the media ran amuck with the story and rendered judgement of guilty against the defendant Lucas K. Richards, an adult white American National before the matter was adjudicated by the trial court.

It therefore took no stretch of the imagination on the reaction of the general public to include this large youthful population, the mass media and this time around, some legislators, when the trial judge having reviewed the evidence, held that the state did not prove the charges as alleged in the indictment, found the defendant not guilty and dismissed the charges against him. Media institutions and practitioners, bloggers, influencers and other internet users began to make denigrating statements against the judge and the judiciary Branch of government as a whole without so much as reading the trial judge’s final ruling in the case.

Another example of media influence public perception, she named the case where quite recently, the Republic of Liberia lost a Criminal case involving four defendants charged by the government with money laundering, drug trafficking and Criminal Conspiracy before the Criminal Assizes “C”, the Court responsible for hearing cases of that nature.

The empaneled jury found the defendants not guilty on all charges, meaning that the State failed and lost its case. Reeling from this below, the then Justice Minister in a press conference proceeded to criticized and ridiculed the entire Judicial Branch of Government and stated in part that “It was worrisome and shameful for the Courts to be setting hardcore criminals free in the face of overwhelming evidence and that the Judiciary was compromised.”

The statement made by the then Minister of Justice was widely circulated by various media organizations with thousands of Liberians describing the Judiciary as inherently corrupt. This act led to the High Court adjudging both the Minister of Justice and the then Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism in Criminal contempt. Several other instances of this nature have occurred over the years.

The head of the Judiciary said, it is time 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.

“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” Chief Justice Yuoh added. This singular act by media institutions could shape the public’s perception of Justice in this new Information Age. This is not always the case.

She added that the Justice system has many actors having direct and indirect interests, but the courts are its Central actors with the responsibility of upholding the rule of law.

However, understanding of the working of the courts is practically non-existent, and the courts cannot be teacher of the law, whether procedurally or otherwise.

Hence, those practicing before the courts defending their clients have the responsibility of dealing fairly with their clients by first honestly and boldly explaining to them the pros and cons of their case vis a visa the law, and not to create the false impression that their client’s’ plight lies squarely within the discretion of a judge and not on the law Chief Yuoh explained.

She further that the key takeaway from the discussion is that in the new Information Age, the media has a huge impact on how the public perceives Justice in every nation that has a justice system, whether or not that nation is developed, underdeveloped or undeveloped.

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 current era in human civilization” Chief Justice Yuoh concluded.

Meanwhile the program is currently being attended by Chief Justice of Ghana, Judges from Sierra Leone, South Africa, Guinea, Nigeria, Europe, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gabon Ethiopia among several others.

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