Liberian Journalist demands compensation

By Jonathan Browne

US-based Liberian photographer and publisher, James Kokulo Fasuekoi, is furious with several dailies in Monrovia for publishing pictures that he took during the civil war in Liberia in the 90s without crediting him for his work in clear breach of ethical standards.

“ I am not really happy, the fact that most of the Liberian newspapers, more than a dozen registered Liberian newspapers have one way or the other abused some of my professional works; works that are copyrighted. Some of them have been published in my books especially, the ‘Jungle Jabbah’ picture that came out during the trial in Philadelphia.

That is just one; there are other photographs that I took of Alhaji Kromah and his rebel fighters in Tubmanburg, Bomi during the civil war around 1993 that are also being abused and misused by many of the newspapers. The violation is very much staggering and quite disturbing that I have never seen any such violations in the profession since I entered the profession in 1985 in Liberia”, he explains in an exclusive interview with the New Dawn Newspaper in Monrovia on Wednesday, 7 February.

Mohammed Jabateh, alias “Jungle Jabbah”, is a Philadelphia-based Liberian former warlord, who had been tried and convicted in the United States for atrocities he committed in Liberia during the civil war. He is awaiting sentence in the U.S.

Mr. Fasuekoi has reached a conclusion to file a formal complaint to the Press Union of Liberia or PUL, umbrella organization for journalists in the country, against these breaches.

According to him, he had personally confronted colleagues working at some of these media institutions both in Liberia and in the United States on the issue, but despite promises to stop, the violations continue.

“Yes, I have made some efforts, in fact, when the Frontpage Africa and the GNN of Cholo Brooks, The Republic Newspaper along with the New Democrat, the Hot Pepper and many others, including the Rhode Island-based The Star Newspaper and the Ducor Post, all of them when they began running my photographs, the photograph of Jabateh, when Jabateh was arrested, we decided, The AfricaPaper, my paper decided to contact them on my behalf because I was very busied preparing for the proceeding and then I had my work to do and family things to run after, so the Executive Editor of the AfricaPaper Issa MANSARAY, took up the issue with the Frontpage Africa Editor Rodney Sieh and the Daily Observer Editors Omari Jackosn and Bai Best and several other editors and told them that the picture they were using is mine, and that they should stop using the picture.

But the Frontpage Africa didn’t respond, but they kind of slow down using the picture, That’s what we observed and the staff at the Daily Observer didn’t remain mute; they became hostile; they sent an hostile email to Massalley who also shared the email with me; it was like a scorn, instead of apologizing for their unprofessional behavior, which we all know you are not supposed to misused, abused or used copyright materials that belong to another professional person, a journalist colleague, they know all of that but they went ahead and did what they did; they were not ought to fix the matter, but threw out scorn at us that got me annoyed”, he complains.

According to him, he intends to get the Press Union involved in order to call the institutions concerned so that together they would reach a concession that could lead to him receiving compensation for the use of his copyrighted photographs with due credit.

Journalism is not only a profession, but also an art that involves creativity, which is protected by intellectual property rights. To use the professional works of another colleague as if they were yours or without according credit is ethically forbidden.

Most Liberian media institutions especially, newspapers, take this important standard for granted, as they go online daily and take works from the BBC, VOA, and other foreign outlets for publication locally without crediting these sources.

But Mr. Fasuekoi is highly optimistic that the National Media Council of the Press Union of Liberia will look into the matter and rule professionally, recalling that he had followed works of the Council while in the United States on ethical transgressions committed by local dailies here, and they are excellently investigated.

“I have already contacted some lawyers in Monrovia while I am here, some of them are colleagues from the media and they are lawyers now. I will be working with them so that we can pursue this thing. What I see here is alarming and disturbing; the media I see today, the way people are misusing other people materials like the way they are kicking my photographs around like football, it never happened during our days in our layout room, 1985/86 when I worked with the Daily Star, we were very careful in using other people photographs; even advertisement, the creativity that goes with designing it; it is very unprofessional in any part of the world”, he stresses.

“It is very disappointing; I take serious exception to the gross misused of my works’, works that I have labored for over the years; sometimes wonder, they these guys really think, I took them at the war front at the of my life”, he adds.

However, he notes that the campaign he intends to embark upon while in Monrovia is not just about compensation, but an attempt to highlight something that seems to have become endemic or rampant among the media here. “We have to start somewhere and let people be made to know that they have to follow ethical rules. Their actions clearly contradict ethical rules set up by Walter Williams, the journalist who wrote the Journalism Creed”, he reminds.

He further emphasizes that plagiarism whether in Liberia or in the U.S. is the same; using the writings of others as one’s own is a serious crime, and these are introductory courses for journalism students entering college in the United States.

Mr. Fasuekoi began his journalism career in 1985 in Monrovia, Liberia at the defunct Daily Star Newspaper, and worked for the Daily Observer. He is also a founding staff of the Inquirer Newspaper and the News Newspaper, respectively. He is a Bush Foundation Scholar, and currently resides in Minnesota, the United States.

Presently in Monrovia for a Church crusade, he has published two beautiful books: Rape, Loot and Murder –Liberian Civil War –A Journalist’s Photo Diary. The second is Sierra Leone’s Nightmare- a Peep inside Komajor’s Land, A photo documentary.

These photo documentaries highlight the dreadful figures, predominantly youth behind the gruesome killings that took place in these two countries in the 90s during their respective civil wars that shock the entire West Africa.

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