Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Whenever Liberians speak about the issue of press freedom and freedom of expression, one of the exercises they usually cite as their justification to this claim is the many “Talk Shows” being hosted by many radio stations in the country. They will resoundingly say, “anyone can call a radio station, and without fear express their views on national issues, especially those contemporary issues in the country.” Rightly so, others will say, “you can even disagree with the President or even take issues with the President.”
Talk shows have been a major source of communication in recent time as they continue to provide citizens the opportunity of airing their views on issues. Because of the level of consumption, 99 percent or all radio stations, including community radio stations, have talk shows programs. It is a fast means of communication through what is known in Mass Communication as the “Machine-Assisted Interpersonal Communication, ” which combines characteristics of both interpersonal and mass communication situations. Its response is instantaneous.
Incontestably, studies of the media in this country have shown and continue to show that many persons listen to the radio than reading newspapers. This means that in Liberia presently, the radio has many listeners or is listened to as compared to the print (newspaper, magazines and others). Therefore, the radio gets lots of persons than the newspapers. This means that the radio has a greater media penetration than the newspaper. But the issue is: How well are the people masking use of radio talk shows for the good of the society?
Contemporarily, in Liberia, one of the fast growing radio programs by many radio stations is the holding of talk shows usually in the morning and evening hours. This is a program that encourages listeners to utilize a concept that the media is the “marketplace of ideas,” which indicates that the media, whether newspapers, radio or television stations should be made available to the people to express their views on issues of national concern. For Liberia, since the civil conflicts over the years, this has permeated every fabric of the radio, as people on a daily basis call no comment on issues.
Unfortunately, this useful piece of communication device is being misused by certain individuals and groups. In some instances, instead of using it for its intended purpose, it is now being used as a weapon or instrument for certain individuals to engage in falsehood and prefabrication against certain individuals and groups in the society. More nauseating is the fact that some individuals use this useful arm of the media to settle scores or “to get even’ with some people or groups in the society, something that is undermining the essence or intent of talk shows, which are sometimes referred to as “phone-in-shows.”
Few days ago, I had the opportunity of listening to the LBS “Super Morning Show,” with the Supreme Don”, Ambrose Nmah on the discussion of what kind of Liberia people want to see. During the discussions, some of the callers advanced suggestions on the kind of Liberia they want to see. One of the callers, who introduced himself as a “reverend,” alleged that people in government were amassing wealth and that some of them have become unquestionable millionaires. The caller claimed some of these monies are in local banks. When Mr. Nmah insisted that the individual be more specific and substantiate his allegation, the caller became evasive and never gave any specific reference.
My interest in this matter of how people use the talk show came about over the weekend when someone, who claimed to be a member of the civil society, decided to discuss an issue involving the President of Liberia on three radio stations. While sitting before the office on Thursday night (production night) a young man came with a press release on claim that President Sirleaf during a recent church service declared that Liberia is a “Christian Country.” When asked as to whether or not this was true, because the very President did not agree with a call by a group of Christians to make Liberia a Christian state, the man said this was carried by THE FOCUS Newspaper and that they were only seeking clarification” as to whether, indeed, the President did make such a declaration in a church.
As the discussion continued, the man said, “We are serious and that you will hear us on three radio stations tomorrow morning.” This is interesting because this is a man who is seeking clarity and at the same time is rushing to appear on three radio stations’ talk shows. I consider this as a serious matter, considering the gullibility of most of our people who may believe whatever they hear. My concern is how can a man who is seeking clarity on an issue don’t wait until such clarity is sought before going public.
For me, it is unfortunate that this kind of useful communication is being abused or misused by some members of the society. Talk shows provide the means for the people to be as part of the democratic process as they usually discuss diverse and wide range of national issues. It has been useful in that through the people’s participation on some issues on these talk shows, some actions have been taken. Regrettably, there are some, who see this as an opportunity to always politicize every issue and even at times rush to conclusion without getting the facts. This is indeed unfortunate.
I conclude by saying that it is always prudent to get the facts and actual thing a person said before reacting because there is high possibility of it being taken out of context.
NB: Mr. Wesseh holds a BA degree with honors in Mass Communication from the University of Liberia. He is also an Attorney-at-law and a former part time teacher in the Department of Mass Communication at the same university. Presently, he is a part time instructor at the United Methodist University in Monrovia.