By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Last Friday I was among three persons who served as panelists during the formal launching of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) website at the Marketplace on Carey Street. The other panelists were Prof Weade Kobbah-Wreh of the Mass Communication Department at the University of Liberia and Mr. Aaron Kollie, head of the Infinity Corporation, which operates Power TV and Power Radio. We spoke on the topic:” The Responsibility Of The Media In Sustaining The Peace.” Prof Lamini Waritay, of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) launched the website.
As usual, following the presentation by each panelist, it was then time for questions and answers. It was during that tine that Henry Flomo of the Liberia Football Association (LFA), while commending the speakers, wondered why there was no mention of the Chris Toe-Rodney Sieh case.
It was from the Flomo’s concern that I took the floor and blamed the Liberian press for the way and manner in which the case went on. I said had this been in the case of a politician, the Liberian media would have reported every step of the legal proceedings. I expressed disappointment that in the case of the instant case; the Liberian media did not follow the proceedings of the case to inform the Liberian people of what was really obtaining during the trial.
On many occasions, during which I am given the opportunity to speak about some of the problems facing the press, I always say that one of the major problems facing the media is the lack of ‘follow up’ to stories carried. Many times, we report stories and do hot even follow up those stories to logical conclusion. This is one of the credits that I give the American media.
Just recently, when I was in the States, they followed a story about an American woman who went to visit Mexico, her country of origin, where she was arrested and detained on drug charges. The media followed the matter until the lady was released. Similarly, there was another case involving one George Zimmerman, a neighbor watch man who killed a 17-year old boy. The man was charged with second degree murder. He claimed that he committed in self-defense. In the end, the accused was set free, a decision that sparked protests in parts of America.
As I write this article, I also feel guilty that I did not follow the case to its logical conclusion. For me, after the appeal was taken against the Civil Law Court’s ruling following a jury guilty verdict and the bill of exception accepted , I though the matter was before the Supreme Court. It was until the highest court affirmed the decision of the lower court, did I know that the matter was not properly before that court as requirements necessary before such matter are brought under the jurisdiction of the court was not met. Again, if we had followed the case, we would have known and perhaps may have taken certain actions, thereby preventing what is obtaining.
As usual such matter begins with the filing of the suit by the plaintiff (complainant), followed by answers by the accused, and later replies to the answers of the accused. Since this was a jury trial, there was the process of jury sequestration, a process during which people are selected to serve on the jury that will hear evidence in the case. During the trial witnesses were produced or issues were raised. Mr. Sieh said he even raised an issue with some jurors who he claimed were seeing conversing with the lawyer of the plaintiff. At the end of the trial, the verdict came out with a guilty verdict, followed by the judge’s ruling as the amount was reduced from US$2m to US$1.5m. Based on the ruling of the court, Mr. Sieh took an appeal to the Supreme Court, where it is said, was not perfected, in keeping with the requirements for such action. With all of these, where were members of the Liberian press? Why was coverage not given to every aspect of this case? Why was this “don’t care attitude” exhibited during the trial by the Liberian media?
However, the issue of blaming the media is not the focus of this article, as this would be considered as spilled milk. The fact of the matter is that the court has given its ruling and the Supreme Court affirmed. Besides, the court has ordered the closure of the newspaper, a day following the incarceration of the Managing Editor of the newspaper, Mr. Rodney Sieh at the Monrovia Central Prison. The actions were taken by the court because Mr. Sieh, who appeared on the Truth FM Breakfast Show last week, said he could not pay such huge amount and that he has problem with the judicial system.
Furthermore, he said he was not prepared to apologize for writing a story based on documents from Dr. Toe’s former Deputy Minister; the President of Liberia and a report from the General Auditing Commission on allegations against Dr. Toe. He said he saw no reason why he should be held liable for writing from these documents and that he prefers death to apology.
Since the court’s actions, there have been attempts by some members of the media and the public to intervene in the matter to get Mr. Sieh out of jail. With these efforts, it has been suggested that Mr. Sieh should apologize to Dr. Toe, so that Dr. Toe could abandon further proceedings regarding the payment of the money for the damages. It has also been said that Dr. Toe is willing to pursue such a path, but needs an apology from Mr. Sieh before proceeding further with the abandonment of the case.
But the sticky issue now is whether or not Mr. sieh would apologize or not. It is seen that from all indications, Mr. Sieh remains resolute about what he published and may not apologize. With this, there have been more attentions to Dr. Toe to “leave this case.” Many persons feel that since Dr. Toe has been “vindicated” by the court on the issue of corruption, as a result of his libel suit, he should leave the matter alone.
There were more concerns when it was learned that Mr. Sieh, who is spending his eight days in prison got ill and was rushed to the JFK Memorial Hospital early Wednesday. I, along with some members of the press and family members of Mr. Sieh hurriedly went to the hospital, where he was seen taking treatment. I left after 3 a.m. yesterday after we were told that he was spending the rest of the morning hours, as he was being treated.
Also at the hospital was his lawyer, former Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods; Mr. T-Max Jlateh of SKY FM, and a former Information Minister Emmanuel Z. Bowier. At the hospital, some family members were not happy that he was taken to the hospital without reference to them. “We should have been informed or notified about this,” one of them said. Other people frowned on the many armed security officers, as well as the huge number of police officers at the hospital. They detested such presence on grounds that Mr. Sieh is not a hardened criminal to be guarded by such number of armed security men.
Whatever the situation, I want to use this medium to add my voice to the many persons who are appealing to Dr. Toe to abandon this case. I certainly agree with the many persons that since he has been `vindicated” by the court, let the matter be put to rest. Dr. Toe may not know, but I do believe, considering the “smallness” of Liberia regarding relationship, that one way or the other there is some relationship between him and Mr. Sieh, both of whom are also sons of Grand Kru County. I am not trying to impute tribal sentiments into the whole matter, but it is equally necessary to recognize this.
Besides, Dr. Toe is a big brother to Mr. Sieh and so if the big brother does not get the apology, let him forget about this for his junior brother to be out of jail. Sometimes these things do happen in the home. Since the big brother feels that he was defamed by the junior brother and the junior brother feels that he did nothing wrong, the big brother should give in for certain reasons. In this case, because of public sentiments and since Dr. Toe is not mainly concerned about the money but apology to clear the record, let him abandon this case since the court has cleared his name.
To Dr. Toe, as we would say in the Liberian way, “God will not come from Heaven to talk to you;” please avoid further proceeding. As I conclude, let me say again that I am also culpable for the lack of public information on the genesis and proceedings of the case. How-be-it, I plead with Dr. Toe in this matter. To say it in the Kru Vernacular, “Ah-bai-tay-mu”(we beg you); “tar-teou-qua” (leave him alone.)