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Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr., Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. (Credit: Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Liberia’s Nation Times newspaper should apologize and retract a story about the country’s vice president Joseph Boakai, the Press Union of Liberia says.

The newspaper also has to pay a $2,500 Liberian (about $30 U.S.) to the press union because of the ethics breach, Global News Network reported.

The Liberian government complained about the Nation Times‘ front-page story, “VP Boakai in Corruption Act — Over $68 Million Disappears in Thin Air.”

The story itself didn’t appear to prompt any complaint or issue with the press union, but instead the headline.  “The selection to coin the headline in such a definitive fashion was a lapse in news judgment, making it appear as though Vice President Joseph Boakai and his office had already been convicted of corruption,” the Global News Network said, writing “the Nation Times wrongly phrased the headlines” of the story.

The newspaper got in trouble because it suggested Koakai “had already been convicted of corruption,” Global News Network said. But the press union’s “investigation shows that the Vice President has neither been forwarded to the Justice Ministry for investigation nor did he appear in court for any judicial action in connection with the report.”

According to the Global News Network report, Liberia’s Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism complained the day of the story over “unethical reporting.”

Sam Stevquoah, Boakai’s chief of staff, responded to the press union’s decision in an e-mail to iMediaEthics.

“Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Sr. wishes to reiterate that the media in Liberia is an indispensable partner in our development and national reconstruction process. The Vice President holds, and has on various occasions espoused, that in order to make a respectable and reliable societal watch-dog (as the Media should be), constant self-evaluation and scrutiny should always come in as a handy tool.

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“The move by the Press Union relative to the unethical approach employed by the Nation Times Newspaper underscores the need for continued capacity building and other actions to help strengthen the media in its reportage. The decision, therefore, is a step in the right decision… though overdue.

“Vice President Boakai is not the least elated over the scope and weight of punitive acts that may come down upon wayward media outlet. He instead remains more prayerful about the our collective effort at uplifting the practice of Journalism onto an elevated, dutiful, balanced, and conscious platform that goes to promote our evolving democratic space.”

The newspaper’s editor, Octavin Williams, was arrested last year after writing critically of Liberia’s president, the Agence France Presse reported.

Liberia’s press union was founded in 1964, according to its website.

“With a membership base of more than 500 journalists, the PUL has oversight responsibility for addressing problems arising from journalists’ reportage and conduct in the face of the ever growing demand for quality and good taste,” the Press Union’s website states. “Basically, the Union was set up to advocate for press freedom and the protection of journalists. But since its founding, the Union has grown to a vibrant pro-democracy group that has championed not only media matters, but issues affecting the democratic governance of the state, social justice and human rights.”

UPDATE: 7/15/2015 6:51 PM EST Abdullai Kamara, the president of the Press Union of Liberia, told iMediaEthics that the press union hadn’t heard back from the Nation Times until the Nation Times’ publisher got in trouble for criminal libel.

“Presently, the Publisher has been held for criminal libel – in another case. The PUL has not endorsed his position, but we have a larger claim against criminal libel, and our arguments here include the fact that libel needs to be civil,” Kamara wrote.

Regarding the union’s membership, Kamara told iMediaEthics “Membership is voluntary, but is largely seen as the point of reference for journalists in Liberia. In terms of compliance, the PUL will utilize the option of suspending membership, if a party that has been penalized or sanctioned refuses to abide.”

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