Authorities in Liberia have banned journalists from entering Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) which prevents journalists from reporting on issues related to Ebola.
The move, according to the authorities, is to protect patients’ privacy. Journalists will hence require the government’s permission to cover issues related to Ebola. Journalists could be arrested and prosecuted if they fail to get written permission from the health ministry before contacting Ebola patients, conducting interviews or filming or photographing healthcare facilities, officials said.
The initial announcement on the ban was made on October 2, 2014, the same day news went round that an American cameraman with the US television station NBC had tested positive for Ebola in Liberia. However, it is unclear if the two incidents are related.
“We have noted with great concern that photographs have been taken in treatment centres while patients are going in to be attended by doctors.” Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant minister of health and head of Liberia’s Ebola Incident Management, said. “That is invasion of the dignity, privacy and respect of patients.”
“Ebola patients are no different from any other patients. We should do that [report] under permission so that we don’t just take pictures or send out stories of naked people [in a way] that does not respect their privacy,” he added.
Journalists had continued their usual reporting practices until they attempted to cover the nationwide ‘slow day’ of action by healthcare workers who were demanding risk bonuses for taking care of Ebola patients. Then journalists were prevented from accessing ETUs and also threatened with arrests.
On October 9, during a discussion programme on Sky FM in Monrovia, the Liberian Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson, said, “Journalists are no longer allowed to enter ETUs. These journalists enter the ETUs and cross red lines. They violate people’s privacy, and take pictures that they will sell to international institutions. We are putting an end to that.”
Jackson also said that henceforth, reports by journalists on the Ebola outbreak in Liberia will be based on statements made by governments rather than what the journalists saw for themselves.
Efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa have been associated with various forms of press freedom restrictions and attacks on journalists, which continue to hamper the provision of timely and accurate information to the public. The MFWA recently released a report on the implications of Ebola on freedom of expression, including press freedom. The report can be accessed here.
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