By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
It has now become an indisputable and incontestable fact that the issue of information dissemination is a serious problem in this government. All of the three branches of this government have acknowledged this problem. Politically, whenever the phrase “Information Dissemination” is used, it usually refers to the impact of information on the lives of a people and a nation. That is, by this, the people get to know what their leaders are doing and are also educated about some of the activities and functions of the functionaries of the status quo. Equally, this also helps the leaders to know the thinking of the people, as it relates to their leaders performance. It is because of this that the press is often referred to as a “two-way street”.
Essentially, information dissemination discourages room for misinformation, disinformation, speculations and lack of education, thereby, making people to make informed decision. Obviously, the opposite of this creates avenue for chaos, threats and unnecessary tensions, as an uninformed or ill-informed society is doomed to encounter unnecessary problems.
Information and communication are usually used interchangeably, but technically, they are different. Information refers to the materials to be used through the means of a device to get to the public for their knowledge, while communication refers to the medium through which such piece of communication is transmitted, whether it is verbal or nonverbal. And so in this case of information dissemination, it is simply referring to the lack of information reaching the people through the appropriate communication channel. As it relates to the status quo, it means that the work, functions, challenges, achievements and programs of the government are filtering down to the people.
Structurally, the government is made in a way that there are structures to handle this issue of information dissemination, as there exists an Information Ministry and a state broadcast. Besides, most of the government ministries and agencies either have information or communication officers who are charged with this responsibility of informing and educating the public on the functions, activities and operations of these institutions.
Prior to assuming the position as Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Minister Lewis Brown, at one point acknowledged this lack of information dissemination oxymoronically described the Ministry, which is principally charged with this responsibility of government’s information dissemination, as a “Sleeping Giant,” meaning that the Ministry has not been able to effectively and efficiently discharge its statutory functions. Interestingly, and regrettably, it is seemingly clear that information is still not filtering down to the people, for which there have been lots of concerns on this matter as many feel that it is not healthy for the government.
Also, the Legislative arm of the government, because of this same situation is contemplating on establishing its own radio station, as information about its activities is not reaching down to the electorates. Although there have been some objections to this, the Capitol Building is still defending its decision because of the issue of information dissemination. Similarly, the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS), which is state-owned is also said to be experiencing serious financial problems in its operation. As a result, it is expected to launch a “dollar campaign” to supplement the “drop in the bucket” amount that has been allocated to it, to be able to effectively and efficiently serve the Liberian people.
Just last week, the Chief Justice, Francis Saye Korkpor, during the official ceremony for the opening of the October Term of Court, stressed the issue of information dissemination. Among other things he said, “We are also aware that improved citizen and stakeholder communication helps to make the courts more appreciative of the needs to address public concerns. We must therefore strike a balance by creating a medium through which the public is informed on the inner workings of the courts and the gradual progress we are making in reforming the Judiciary. This should curtail the situation of speculation and at times unfounded and/or distorted reports by the media and others about the Judiciary.”
He added, “In this regard, and without any intent to compromise or offend the provision of Judicial Canon #11, we have mandated the Court Administrator to pursue a robust program of providing information to the public regarding the work of the Judiciary. This will require the creation of a public information office that will work closely with the Court Administrator to serve as a clearinghouse for the release of information on the Judiciary to the public on a periodic basis. And this will be done in consultation with the office of the Chief Justice to ensure that due care is exercised at all times in order to preserve the sanctity of matters and proceedings before the courts.”
It can be recalled that in his July 26 oration, the Chairman of the Unity Party, Cllr. Varney Sherman, also acknowledged this problem. He said the government has made many strives, regrettably, the information was not reaching the people. In his words he said,” Tremendous progress has been made in restoring the credibility and integrity of our country with the international community and getting the international community to waive our daunting foreign debts and to allow new credits to us. The reinstitution of political governance, especially the holding of two presidential and general elections in a rather harmonious way, the restoration of normality in social interactions among our people and the resort to the courts of law to settle grievances are all indications that we have come a long way from the days of our civil war. The accolades and honors which have been bestowed on you, Madam President, by governments, academia, international governmental and non-governmental organizations and other institutions attest to the success of your policies, programs and endeavors.”
He went on:“I am however concerned that enough information about these achievements and accomplishments has not flowed to the Liberian public at large and too many people, even within Monrovia and its immediate environs don’t know enough about these achievements and accomplishments. The absence of information to the Liberian people about these achievements and accomplishments is a serious deficiency that must be remedied immediately. It should be acknowledged that these accomplishments and achievements contribute to peace and reconciliation in our country. I therefore recommend very strongly that the information dissemination structure and process of this Government be revamped and adequately supported to provide all information about the accomplishments and achievements of this Government; a dissemination of information in a way that it permeates every sector of our country.”
Even though the counselor’s observation did not go down well with some who took issue with him, it is clear today that should one judge from prevailing situations, this problem persists and as such, something should be done to enhance the level of information dissemination.
Recently during her visit to the United States to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations, President Sirleaf raised the issue of information dissemination, as was published in the Thursday, October 3 edition of THE NEWS newspaper. In that story captioned: “SLEEPY GIANT DEAD?… ELLEN BLAMES MICAT FOR NEGATIVE PERCEPTION,” the paper said, “It seems that the Ministry of Information once described as a ‘sleepy giant’ by Minister Lewis G. Brown is dead as President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has blamed the Ministry for the high level of negative perceptions about the government.”
Speaking in an interview with a reporter of Fabric Radio in the United States of America, President Johnson-Sirleaf blamed the Ministry for failing to inform the people about steps that have been taken by the government in the battle against corruption. She said the Information Ministry is not adequately informing the Liberian people about strives and progress that have been made by government in the fight against corruption.
Whether it is owing to lack of financial support, as in the case of LBS, lack of personnel in the case of the Judiciary and lack of air time in the case of the Legislature, the fact of the matter is that something must be done in this direction as “information is power” and a fulcrum to achieving growth and development, and more importantly in the case of Liberia, for also reconciliation and peace. It is an indisputable fact that one of the reasons for misinformation, as exhibited by some, including some of those who call during talk show is owing to the lack of information.
Let me say that there is indeed a need for proper and coordinated information dissemination to the Liberian people about government’s activities. Just few days ago, there were contradictory statements on the issue of the budget from some offices of government. Don’t ask me about the “clearinghouse” system.
Again, the President signed the budget without proper information dissemination to the Liberian people. Such was necessary considering the fact that the budget signing became a controversial issue. Therefore, since it was signed, it should have been made known by those responsible to the people, to put the matter to rest, as people were still discussing it last Monday, when in fact, it was reportedly signed last weekend. Government’s operation should not be straddled in secrecy. This is why I was not surprised yesterday when I saw a front page headline in the INDEPENDENT newspaper of Sam Dean, in which the paper reported that the budget was passed secretly.
It is now a foregone conclusion that the issue of information dissemination is really a problem for which LBS has launched a campaign to help in this process. The Capitol Building is planning to establish its own radio station to reach out, and the Judiciary may soon have a communication person. These are all indications of a serious problem in the information sector of the government that something needs to be done.
But all in all, it must sustainably be supported, with all resources, including finances needed to execute this. I REST MY CASE.