Philip N. Wesseh’s respond to Frontpage’s editorial


Written by Philip N. Wesseh

As a journalist who discusses national issues and sometimes disagree with people, I do not feel offended if someone disagrees with me or differs with me on national issues of concern. Given our idiosyncrasies, we will not always agree on issues, but what matters is the interest of the country at the end of the day.

Even the Siamese twin will not always agree on issues, but what matters is that at the end of the day, their lives matter. Those of us in the business of taking issues with people or institutions should equally be prepared to face similar situation if we act contrarily. Today we can boast of freedom of the press and speech.

This is healthy for our democracy. But at the same time, let it be noted that this is not absolute because it goes with responsibility as enshrined in Article 15( a). This means that whatever an individual or institute such as a media institution writes, must be accurate, which is a good hallmark in the field of journalism.

For me, criticism is good because it helps us to correct some of our mistakes. But let me say that I take offence when there is a piece of article about me that is fraught with inaccuracies and prefabrications. More importantly, I take serious this kind of situation because of the level of gullibility in our society.

Many of our people believe what they read; therefore, it becomes imperative to respond accordingly and promptly to such articles to avoid the people from forming a wrong position or opinion based on the misinformation provided.

In the May 10, 2010, editorial of the FRONTPAGE of Rodney Sieh, captioned: “Journalist Philip Wesseh Must Step Down From Rights Vetting Commission,” the paper insinuated that it was wrong for me to be named as one of the experts on the vetting “commission” for the Independent Human Rights Commission of Liberia, which is charged with the responsibility of vetting individuals to be appointed on the Human Rights Commission.

Furthermore, the editorial said that your opposition was based on the fact that I openly defended former Information Minister Dr. Laurence Bropleh when he was accused of financial malpractice. Additionally, the paper said erroneously that I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC). The newspaper opined that by being on the vetting “commission” and the MCC ”Board of Directors,” was “conflict of interest.” As a result, the paper called on the Press Union of Liberia and others to mount pressure for me to leave the vetting process.

First let me point out some of the errors for the benefit of the public. The first error in that editorial, which seems to be a one-man show, is the reference to this vetting “committee” as “commission.” Note, there is a difference between a commission and a committee. The next egregious error is the issue of the” Board of Directors of the MCC.”

Let me inform the FRONTPAGE that the MCC does not have a Board of Directors; rather it has a City Council, which works along with it to ensure the full implementation of City Ordinance and also to bring about programs for the betterment of the city, so to say a Board of Directors is a deliberate attempt to create a wrong impression in the mind of the reading public.

I am making these corrections because some members of the reading public who are not aware of these issues may accept your faux pas.

As I stated earlier, the editorial could have done well if other editors had an input to ensure that it conforms to the style of the newspaper.

In the business of editorial writing, a media institution can decide on a specific format. It may be done in italics, or decide to capitalize certain number of words in a paragraph.

In the case of the FRONTPAGE editorial, it does not conform to this principle of good editorial writing. In some of the paragraphs, it made bold(capital letters) the three first words, while in some of the other paragraphs , it made bold the first two words. This is inconsistency and contrary to good editorial, as it relates to format and style.

On the issue that I openly defended Bropleh, I wish not to deal with this since the matter is now in court. Notwithstanding I challenge Mr. Sieh and his editorial staff to provide any piece of evidence that I “openly” defended Bropleh. I take serious interest in this because I cannot remember at any time or anywhere where I openly defended Bropleh.

For this I demand the evidence. I demand evidence because editorial should not be written from hearsay or imagination, but must be written based on facts as this is the opinion or view of the newspaper on issues. My demand of evidence is the use of the term ‘openly’ means something of public knowledge therefore, the onus rests with the accuser as it is often said that one that accuses has the burden to prove. Therefore, the paper should prove where I openly defended Bropleh.

As I write this piece of communication and considering the phraseology of the FRONTPAGE editorial, I am of the conviction that others who are not even journalists who have read this, have logically deduced that because it was the work of one-man’s idea, it is fraught with these unethical and professional blunders.

On the issue of being with the MCC, the FRONTPAGE should know, or if it does know that the Council is drawn from people of different professional backgrounds. My presence there has not compromised the independence and integrity of the Liberian Media. I challenge any media institution to point to any fact or situation the fact that I have called it to “kill” negative story of the MCC, or to even discuss any promotional issues for the MCC.

The paper’s editorial raised the issue of “conflict of interest.’ Really I do not know why the newspaper decided to use the issue of conflict of interest because of my presence on the MCC Council and the Vetting Committee.

I see no way can this conflict with my work as a journalist. Perhaps the editorial staff has a different meaning about conflict of interest. The most laughable thing about this editorial is the editorial’s staff’s acknowledgement of the presence of the Press Union of Liberia, (PUL) which it has disrespected and has been very discourteous about. Frankly, I am happy that this paper has now realized there is a PUL in Liberia that issues concerning the media should be addressed to.

To conclude, I call on FRONTPAGE not to allow its editorial to go through one person because the issue of editorial is crucial in that it is the opinion or view of the paper on issues.

As such, if it is written by one person as in the case against me, those mistakes pointed out could have been noticed. But because it was maliciously done to bring me to public disrepute, this is why it was not professionally done.

In other words, if it was done in the normal writing of editorial where the views and inputs of others were sought, it could not have been in such a dismal manner. The editorial staff should insist that the editorials should have the inputs of others.

Although an individual can operate a newspaper, but when it comes to the editorial, it must be discussed and should meet the consensus of all. The reason is that the editorial represents the view and opinion of the newspaper on issues; therefore, it is imperative that others participate. The process of editorial writing is participatory and interactive as opposed to a one-man show.

I thank the staff for this diatribe as it has afforded me the opportunity to open a classroom about writing editorial, especially as it relates to style, format and accuracy.