By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the ways government accentuates or propagates its public relations activities is through the use of the media, whether private or state-owned institutions. In Liberia, administrations have been able to do this through the use of the privately-owned media, sometimes on a pro bono basis. Fortunately in Liberia, administrations over the years have been blessed to have a state-owned media, the Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) to help in the dissemination of information about the government’s activities.
Prior to the civil conflict, there was outcry over the way and manner in which the state-owned media-LBS- was being run as the “propaganda tool” of the government, thereby depriving critical voices of the government. That is, for years, it was a taboo to allow critical voices on that station. However, and fortunate, the station over the years, especially since the civil conflict, has taken on a new posture by being the “people’s station” or the “people’s voice.”
Regrettably, while there have been improvements in terms of the use of the station, and the quality of its work, there is a new phenomenon that is impeding its operation in recent time. The station has been operating on what the popular former Youth and Sports Minister John Beh, called “Bare Bone” budget, meaning the funds allocated or approved in its budget, are inadequate to ensure the unimpeded and undisrupted operation of the budget.
It is an open secret that the budget of the institution was drastically sliced when it was taken to the Legislature for approval. Lamentably, the management expressed dissatisfaction over this, but could do nothing to amend, as it must operate on a “shoe string,” or make use of the ‘drop in the bucket” something that is impossible, considering the many programs of the station, as well as the time of operation to operate, as expected.
Worst of all, I am hearing, although yet to be confirmed that the station’s budget will reduce drastically. Previously it had a budget of US$1.4m which was reduced to US800,000. Today, I am hearing in the grapevine that this might further be reduced to US$500,000 for the running of the station for the next fiscal year. Indeed, this is interesting because if it cannot operate with US$800,000, how can it operate with such a meager amount? This, for me, is tantamount to saying, “to hell with LBS” which may gradually lead to its demise. Those of us, who run private generators at home, know the cost associated with this. And so to treat LBS this way is frustrating.
Many times to save face, the management has to deliberately lie, against their consciences or religious oath, to the public by citing technical problems, sometimes for its intermittent operation, when, in fact, it is basically owing to the lack of fuel to run the station.
I should not be misconstrued of being derogatory about the management, but in complete sympathy with them for making such sacrifices when officials of this very government receive huge gas coupons for mobility, while the state-owned broadcaster, is consciously neglected or ignored.
I admire the management for incredibly performing well in the midst of these shortcomings, especially so as they relate to fuel, which is necessary to lubricate the wheels to keep the station rolling continuously or what the Latin, refers to as, ”ad infimnitum.
It is saddened to note that every other day the station is faced with this problem of, “no fuel.’ This, for me, has the propensity to dampen the working spirit of the staff, undermine innovation and creativity and the good intention of the managers to run the station.
Let me say in this public manner that, given the galaxy of managers at that station, much would be achieved. But, again, this cannot be done in the wake of this “no fuel’ situation that may give the station an unpleasant nickname, “THE NO FUEL STATION,” something I hope would not be. Therefore, it is time that the government, including the lawmakers, who are the direct representatives of the people, should seriously review the ugly situation at the station. Again, it is equipped with the requisite men and women to do the job, but their hands are tied.
Today, it is a known fact, even from media study reports, that the station has a large listenership because of its many problems and the quality of its work by the staff. Two of the major problems that magnetize listeners are The Super Morning Show, and Dumper’s Show. Let me also mention, its civil education which has as large listenership, as many are interested in knowing their rights, the role and functions of various government’s ministries and agencies.
Just yesterday morning, because of the same, “no fuel” situation, the station could not come on, thus disappointing its many listeners.
As usual as part of my journalistic culture, every morning, I try to listen to some of the stations before reaching to my place of work. And so yesterday I decided to listen to the LBS morning news. Unfortunately, I could not get it.
Out of curiosity, I decided to ascertain why the station was off the air at such a crucial time, just as day after the government launched this Five Year Action Plan Against Human trafficking” and that many persons would want to get details of such important program.
It was in the process of finding out that I was told the same story of the lack of fuel. I sat in my chair dumbfounded and began to ponder why the government of President Sirleaf, someone who knows the importance and value of the media, would allow such situation at the state-owned institution.
In all fairness, had it been someone else in the driver’s seat, I would not have developed interest in this matter. But because it is Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, affectionately, “THE IRON LADY,” someone I know, knows the value and importance of the media; I am raising my case with her, in this public courtroom, where I am well protected.
Indisputably, some of the many media-related or freedom of the press awards or accolades she has received are because of her respect for the media and so it may be seen as a paradox that this winner of these awards’ government is playing lip service to the operation of the state-owned media. For me, it is unfair to the Liberian people that elected this government.
One of the reasons the people elected the government is to build institutions or to strengthen them, and not to see them dwindle down the drain, as in the case of LBS. In the case of LBS that is now serving the Liberian populace, what is expected of this government is sustained and adequate support to ensure its smooth operation.
The present situation at LBS is not a strange one as there have been reports and editorials for the need to do something to ensure that the station does not go off the air because of the lack of fuel, but it seems that these are falling on deaf ears, as the station continues to experience the same problem now and then. Maybe one way to get out of this mess is to negotiate with the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) for constant and incessant supply of fuel, and that modality can be worked out on the payment issue.
But to see this station in this stage of intermittent operation is unfair to the Liberian people. Government cannot remain insensitive to the plight of this state broadcaster. Let me emphasize that the station has the requisite manpower to do an effective job, but in the absence of tools, it is incapacitated to function effectively and efficiently.
Until I hear from the government headed by Madam Sirleaf, a person I know who knows the value and the importance of the media, I Rest My Case.