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March 11, 2018 | Letters

Ref: Complaint-Protest over Hijacked War-Photographs of “Gen. Jungle Jabbah”

James Kokulo Fasuekoi
James Kokulo Fasuekoi
James Kokulo Fasuekoi

Secretariat
National Media Council
44 Clay Street, Monrovia, Liberia

Ref: Complaint-Protest over Hijacked War-Photographs of “Gen. Jungle Jabbah”

Greetings:

Let me first extend my heartfelt greetings to you and members of your union for your hard work and determination to overcome all odds and risks in order to keep the Liberian masses abreast of daily events in our Motherland. I am especially grateful and also indebted to those of you who resisted fear and remained in the country and covered the deadly Ebola epidemic of 2014.

The main purpose of this communication is to register a formal complaint with your secretariat over the flagrant misuse of some of my treasured war photographs by Liberian publishers and hope that your committee will investigate the incidents thoroughly and swiftly in order to resolve the matter short of litigation.

My treasured war-photographs that have been subject of unwarranted and excessive misuse, abuse, and exploitation, lately by Liberian media organizations include (1) a portrait of Mohammed Jabateh, wearing military uniforms, (exhibit “A”); (2) a group photograph of Jabateh posing with ULIMO rebel soldiers, (exhibit “B”); (3) a group photograph showing ULIMO-K leader, Alhaji G.V. Kromah, with his bodyguards and fighters in the faction's erstwhile headquarters of Tubmanburg, Bomi County, during the heydays of the war (exhibit “C”). The referenced photos, of high resolution, are not backyard garden images; I captured all in hostile territories in the heat of war, all at the expense of my own life.

This was in 1993, less than six months after the United Liberation Movement for Democracy captured the gold-diamond rich western Liberia, territories once controlled by the belligerent National Patriotic Front of Mr. Charles Taylor. One in particular, for instance, exhibit “A,” inexorably became iconic in the Jabateh trial because of its excessive use by the mass media worldwide and the Court's decision to use it as key evidence in the trial. Yet, except Liberia-based GNN, and Liberian-owned Swedish based Nordic Africa News, dozens of outlets including, Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, CBS 3

Eyewitness News, and NBC 10 News, used exhibit “A” without credit or compensation.

Philadelphia Inquirer and NBC 10 later added my byline after I confronted them.

Liberian dailies, like the FrontPage Africa, Daily Observer and New Democrat, Hot Pepper, Capitol Times, New Republic, etc, have also run one or more of the referenced war-photos multiple times in their prints and online publications without first seeking permission from me. At the time of writing this letter, neither has added my credit byline to the published photo(s) nor compensates for damages done to my business as a result of such gross copyright violations. Their editions displaying exhibit “A” were also re-published by their Allafrica.com affiliate and distributed worldwide. Nevertheless my team has tried fruitlessly to reach a compromise with many involved.

I have expressed similar concerns with some Liberian owned media organizations based abroad which lifted and used exhibit “A”, without permission from me. These include The African Star of Providence, Rhode Island, Ducor Post in Pennsylvania, and Sierra Leone's home and overseas based publications such as “Critique Echo Newspaper”, Salone Times and “New African Gazette” with no available contact information among several others. But our legal team intends to initiate separate legal action for damages against all violators based abroad, including the Allafrica.com management.

Most disturbing perhaps, is that some publications like Daily Observer, GNN, Hot Pepper, The African Star and the Ducor Post, among others, were found to have engaged in malicious acts by plagiarizing (directly copying) Jabateh's exhibit “A,” a color photograph, from my published book and used same in their various prints and online editions. The picture still hangs on their webpages.

For its part, the FrontPage Africa initially started off using exhibit “C,” and afterward, it blended both “A” and “C” together and used them repeatedly. Apparently, seeing that no one protested its wrong doing, FPA credited itself as “owner” or “original source” for my exhibit “C” war-photograph. That's beyond reasoning! Besides, the paper gave a misleading caption to the group picture which read: “Jabbateh leading a troop during the war years in Liberia.”

The fact is Jabateh himself is not in that particular photograph; instead, ULIMO-K leader, Gen. Kromah is the highest ranking person standing in the middle with bodyguards and fighters. Still, without a question, a couple publications like New Republic, “Echo Newspaper,” the New African Gazette, that borrowed the identical photo from FPA, adopted the erroneous caption and published.

My book, Rape, Loot & Murder-Liberian Civil War: A Journalist's Photo Diary, in which Jabateh's exhibit “A” photograph was first published 2009-11, is registered with the U.S. Library of Congress and protected by U.S. Copyright Laws. This photo was used by the government prosecution as key evidence in the Jabateh trial which was part of reasons for which the United States Government subpoenaed me to testify in the well-publicized trial: “United States of America vs. Mohammed Jabateh” which took place in Philadelphia, USA, October 2, 2017.

Firstly, it must be noted that their behavior to plagiarize my copyrighted photo strongly undermines fundamental rules of the journalism profession, as enshrined in the Journalist's Creed created by late Walter Williams, Dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, more than a century ago. The Creed unequivocally states, among other things that “clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.”

When our team of editors at the Africa Institute for International Reporting (AIIR), publisher of The AfricaPaper.com, tried to initiate a discussion with those involved in such violation with the aim of amicably settling the matter, the gesture was often greeted with scorn and cold shoulder by editors and publishers in Liberia. Some chose to stay mute, further complicating the matter. But the Liberian Daily Observer of Mr. Kenneth Yarkpawolo Best, responded in a hostile tone via email. It is this kind of unapologetic behavior by certain colleagues that prompted this protest letter. For it is only fair for all associated with the profession to adhere to ethical standards and maintain respect for works done or owned by other journalists.

Based upon the foregoing, and as a way to deter similar abhorrent copyright violations in the future, while encouraging young people to learn the importance of doing their own creative original work, rather than catch an easy ride on the backs of hardworking individual like me, we hereby suggest the followings:

  1. That your honorable body should request all Liberian publishers, editors, who violated the referenced photographs to remove them from their webpages immediately without conditions;
  2. That your secretariat thoroughly investigate and establish the facts per our complaint and recommend appropriate remedies which may include reasonable compensation to award the offended party (Fasuekoi) by institutions found liable for gross copyright violations of my works;
  3. That each violator writes a letter of apology for unprofessional conduct with an assurance that he or she shall not repeat such violation.

The outcome of your investigation shall determine whether or not we will institute legal action against those involved. Meanwhile, we are in touch with our legal team on our next course of action.

Sincerely yours,

James Kokulo Fasuekoi
CC…Legal Representatives
CC… Chairman, Press Union of Liberia Ethics & Grievance Committee
CC…Head of Ethics & Grievance Committee/Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA)

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Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of James Kokulo Fasuekoi and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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