By Edwin G. Wandah
At the 25th Silver Jubilee celebration of the News Newspaper Lecture Series held at the auditorium of the University of Liberia on Friday, April 18, 2014, two of the three panelists differed with the manner in which the Liberian media has been operating in the country.
The former Press Union of Liberia President, Peter Quaqua and Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe have differed on the belief that several past governments, including the current have had parts played in some unjust treatments meted the media.
Addressing the Topic, “THE LIBERIAN MEDIA, 25 YEARS BACK,” Former PUL Boss Peter Quaqua in his comparative analysis, gave a graphic picture of what he believed that the Ellen led Government has joined the band wagon of intolerance in Liberia.
According to Mr. Quaqua, the demand for media pluralism and independence as well as social change in the past twenty-five years, is indebted to the various civil conflicts and the struggle for social justice and democracy in Liberia.
These, he said, include, but not limited to the military takeover of 1980, led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, the counter insurgency of 1989, led by Mr. Charles Taylor, to the attending advocacy for peace and freedom (locally, regionally and internationally), of the 90s, and to the Democratic Movements of the 2000s.
The former Press Union Boss also took a keen retrospect of those mistreatments and challenges faced by the media in its efforts to exhibit free press. “It is between these good and bad times, that we have seen the rapid growth of the media,” Mr. Quaqua averred.
“Notwithstanding, the enormous challenges occasioned by the ever present harsh economic situation, the unfriendly legal environment and an unprecedented political space, that some of these media outlets were established, as a direct offshoot of the various struggles to propagate the policies and interests of various actors,” Mr. Quaqua concluded.
For his part, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe said, the Ellen led Government, in its drive to see free speech and media freedom and champion the cost of media independence in the country, where the Liberian media will at least enjoy some kind of freedom in its reportorial duties has experienced the same situation in the past.
“Let me first congratulate, Attorney Wilson Tarpeh, founder and the management and staff of this time-tested media entity for keeping it alive for 25 years. To survive as a private media entity in Liberia for even one year takes a lot of will-power. This achievement may not have been possible without the efforts of Kloh Hinneh, the first Managing Editor of the Newspaper and Sam Van Kesselly, its Editor-in-chief. May we rise in moment of silence to the memory of the Late Kloh Hinneh who died during the war due to the lack of proper medical care,” Cllr. Gongloe stated.
“Today, the President complains that there is too much negative reporting on the government in Liberian newspapers and this is hurting Liberia. When politicians are seeking power, they see the press as a friend and their stories great for the country. The situation changes, most often, when they get political power,” Cllr. Gongloe intimated.
However, according to Cllr. Gongloe, it should be noted that the press does not create stories. It reports stories created by actors on the public scene, the most important of which are those who bear the public trust in government functionaries.
He said, “Instead of our President complaining about negative reporting, she should constitute a small monitoring team in her office to check on what she considers negative reports with the view of examining those stories and take corrective actions in the interest of the people, where necessary,” Cllr. Gongloe averred.
According to him, 25 years ago, the media in its efforts to fuel the nation and its people with information, was considered as bad one, facing serious threats and harassments from political actors and governments, who used these same institution to champion their platforms, but later considered the same institution for themselves.
Meanwhile, former PUL Boss Peter Quaqua stated further that the Sirleaf Administration during the 2011 Elections sent police overnight under the cover of the court order to shut down three media entities who he said were reporting the shooting to death of an opposition partisan.
According to him, the Government also suspended the Director General of the State owned Broadcast for allowing an opposition political leader to air a live press conference and the growing number of lawsuits been filed by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her family members and members of the Government.
Although, Mr. Quaqua, in his statement, acknowledged some gains made by this government over the years, especially; with the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, and the President’s commitment to have at least repealed Crimination Defamation and Insult Laws, as accentuated by the Table Mountain Declaration.
Meanwhile, Acting Information Minister Isaac Jackson has strongly criticized the views of both former PUL Boss Peter Quaqua and Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe.
According to the Acting MICAT Boss, the Ellen Johnson led Administration has done its best in improving the current Liberian media. Making official remarks, Mr. Jackson stated that unlike past Administrations, the current Government, under the Leadership of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has seen massive improvements in press freedom, no interference into media activities and at least Government’s contribution to the building of the Press Union Office in the amount of USD100, 000, 00.
The Acting Information Minister also mentioned the duty free privilege given to Community Radio Stations by Government to bring equipment in the Country at any time to boost their work.
Meanwhile, the News Newspaper has paid tributes to several other fallen compatriots who they considered as heroes of the time.
According to the former Managing Editor of the News Newspaper, Nyekeh Forkpa and the proprietor of the News Newspaper, Professor Wilson K. Tarpeh, said the institution will always remember those fallen individuals for their numerous contributions made to the institution.
The program is expected to continue on Thursday of this week with a “Red Carpet Event”at the Monrovia City Hall in Monrovia.