The Managing Editor of the INQUIRER Newspaper, Atty Philip N. Wesseh, has expressed serious concern over the way and manner in which some public relations officers of government are being treated. He said these officers are treated as non-essential personnel.
He said this is partly responsible for the poor communication within the government because some of these officers are not given the needed tools and information to effectively and efficiently execute their functions.
The INQUIRER boss made the observation on Tuesday this week at a one-day stakeholders meeting on an Act to decriminalize the violation of the right to freedom of expression in Liberia, held at a local hotel. The laws in question are Criminal Malevolence, Sedition and Criminal Libel against the President.
Serving as one of the panelists, Mr. Wesseh pointed out that the fear many in the public sector have is that by decriminalizing these laws would be a license to recklessness by the media and others and this can only be allayed if these PR officers are empowered to do their jobs.
Atty Wesseh said that there are instances in which some of these officers are not even permitted to sit in senior staff meetings with heads of their institutions, thus making it impossible to deal with some issues whenever they are confronted by the media.
He said sometimes these officers, because they lack the information, they have to consult their bosses before commenting; something he said does not augur well in the prompt dissemination of relevant information for public consumption.
Mr. Wesseh said as there are efforts to decriminalize these laws on free expression, the government must equally think about empowering its information and communication officers for their jobs.
Regarding ethical transgression in the media, Mr. Wesseh who has been in the profession for over three decades, said the best approach to this is to call the particular media institution’s attention to such breach and that a good and professional media upon noticing any error, would immediately acknowledge this and make the necessary correction. “What this does is that it mitigates punishment and adds respect to that institution,” he added.
He said to arrest, detain or sue for libel is not the best situation, as journalists hate for their credibility to come into question and would therefore do everything to correct such error.
Mr. Wesseh caused laughter when he cited an example of a story in which a media institution insisted on a particular story involving the former wife of former President, Charles Taylor, Agnes Taylor. In that story he said it was reported that Madam Taylor was killed in an accident in Bong Mines.
Mr. Wesseh said after the publication, Madam Taylor reacted that she was still alive but the reporter maintained at the time that “he stands by his story.” Mr. Wesseh said this was a bad example of good journalism, as there is nothing wrong with admitting to an error or correcting previously published or broadcast stories.
To his colleagues in the media, Mr. Wesseh said there is nothing wrong with a media institution conceding whenever there is an error in a publication or broadcast.
On another matter, Mr. Wesseh said there is a need for the issue of award to be studied because the amount some individuals sue the media for is too astronomical and unreasonable for so-called defamation of reputation.
He intimated that there is a need for reasons to prevail in awarding money for alleged defamation and also observed that some of these high amounts are only intended to suppress or see the closure of media institutions.