Monrovia – Liberia said on Friday it was banning journalists from Ebola clinics, defying media rights campaigners who have warned panicked African governments against “muzzling” reporters in response to the crisis.
Government spokesperson Isaac Jackson made the announcement as he was questioned on a radio phone-in show about reporters being barred from covering a strike at a Monrovia Ebola treatment unit (ETU).
“Journalists are no longer allowed to enter ETUs. These journalists enter the ETUs and cross red lines,” Jackson, the deputy information minister, told listeners to commercial station Sky FM.
“They violate people’s privacy, take pictures that they will sell to international institutions. We are putting an end to that”.
Journalists had earlier been denied access to the Island Clinic in Monrovia to cover a nationwide “go slow” day of action by healthcare workers demanding risk bonuses for treating Ebola.
The minister told the Monrovia-based station he would insist that journalists report his statements from now on rather than what they saw for themselves.
“There is no protest, everything is fine with the healthcare workers and patients are well taken care of,” he said of the clinic.
Earlier, a caller identifying himself as a nurse at the centre told the station that patients had been dying because they were not receiving adequate care.
“We, the nurses, cannot work because the hygienists have stopped working. The patients are dying. Something needs to be done. The go-slow action is killing our people,” he said.
Sources from global aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF; Doctors Without Borders), which runs a unit of around 250 beds in Monrovia, said it would be writing to the government to ask to be excluded from the ban.
Liberia is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in the 2014 press freedom index produced by Reporters Without Borders. Sierra Leone is 72nd while Guinea is ranked 102nd.
The media rights campaign group warned that panicked governments fighting the epidemic were “quarantining” reporters to prevent them covering the crisis.
“Combating the epidemic needs good media reporting but panicked governments are muzzling journalists,” it said in a statement.
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