Liberia: Lack of mass media control undermines public confidence in the justice system

Chief Justice of the Supreme of Liberia, Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh has said that the lack of effective oversight/oversight of competing social media platforms is one of the most significant game changers in mass communication and that the lack of control is seriously offending public confidence in the rule of law and the judicial system.

“This claim is supported by the fact that the issues of free speech and checks and balances are overwhelmingly abused by online reporters who conveniently replace accurate reporting with misinformation and sensationalist headlines,” she noted.

“Not forgetting the fact that not all those who report and post have any formal or informal training in mass communication and do not have the slightest thought or conviction of the harmful effect their actions have on the innumerable segment of the population,” Chief Justice Yuoh argued . .

She said this when she spoke on the theme: The impact of the media on the public’s perception of the legal 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 in attendance.

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 excludes lawyers, parties and other persons from commenting on cases still pending and undermining the courts.

“Regardless, we have observed that mass media institutions continue to discuss cases that are before the courts and give opinions about the guilt or innocence of the parties and paint a picture of their decision by a judge. This action continues even after the end of the trial once the court’s decision is finally delivered,” Chief Justice Yuoh added.

As an example of the media’s influence on public perception’ she said’ the recent decision of the Criminal Assizes “B” First Circuit, Montserrado in the case Republic of Liberia V. Lucas K. Richards, where the prosecution charged Lucas K. Richards with aggravated assault and criminal attempt on committing murder, felonies of the second degree. The private prosecutor, a young female librarian. Statistics show that the population of Liberia currently stands at approximately 5.5 million, with over half comprising those of youthful age.

On the face of it, it is the fact that the youth are fanatics of the internet, social media, etc. and like any modern society globally, Liberian youth are hooked on this platform.

Imagine, then, that the case involves a youthful Liberian woman. I can tell you that the general public and the media ran wild with the story and entered a guilty verdict against the defendant, Lucas K. Richards, an adult white American citizen, before the case was decided by the trial court.

It therefore took no stretch of the imagination for the reaction of the general public to include this large youthful population, the mass media and this time some legislators, when the trial judge had reviewed the evidence, held that the state did not prove charges as alleged in the indictment, found the defendant not guilty and denied the charges against him.

Media institutions and practitioners, bloggers, influencers and other internet users started making disparaging statements against the judge and the judiciary as a whole without so much as reading the trial judge’s final ruling in the case.

Another example of the influence of the media on public perception, she called the case where the Republic of Liberia very recently lost a criminal case involving four defendants accused by the government of money laundering, drug trafficking and criminal conspiracy for the criminal assessors “C”, the court responsible to deal with cases of that nature.

The empaneled jury found the defendants not guilty on all charges, meaning the state failed and lost its case. On the basis of this below, the then Attorney General in a press conference went on to criticize and ridicule the entire judicial branch of the government, stating in part that “it was worrying and shameful for the courts to release hardcore criminals in the face of overwhelming evidence. and that the judiciary was compromised.”

The statement by the then Attorney General was widely circulated by various media organizations with thousands of Liberians describing the judiciary as inherently corrupt. This action led to the High Court convicting both the Minister of Justice and the then Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism of criminal contempt. Several other cases of this nature have occurred over the years.

The Head of the Judiciary said that it is time we change the narrative and create media content that is well-researched and that reflects the true events of the institutions covered instead of publishing sensational stories just for fame and likes or in case of youthful Liberia, just to prove his relevance, even if there is none to begin with.

“I believe that the enormous influence that the media has, especially in most democratic societies, should be used to disseminate or disseminate factual information from authentic sources,” Chief Justice Yuoh added. This singular action 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 legal system has many actors with direct and indirect interests, but the courts are its central actors responsible for upholding the rule of law.

However, understanding of the workings of the courts is practically non-existent, and the courts cannot be teachers of the law, procedurally or otherwise.

Therefore, those who practice in the courts defending their clients have a responsibility to treat their clients fairly by first honestly and boldly explaining to them the pros and cons of their case in relation to a visa law, and not to create the false impression, that their client’s ‘The situation is entirely within a judge’s discretion and not on the law, Chief Yuoh explained.

She continues that the most important point of the discussion is that in the new information age, the media has a huge influence on how the public perceives justice in any nation that has a legal system, whether that nation is developed, underdeveloped, or undeveloped.

The new information or digital age is powerful, rapidly expanding, and here to stay with its “Idea that access to and control of information is the defining characteristic of the current era of human civilization,” concluded Chief Justice Yuoh.

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

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