Government’s Indebtedness To The Media: An Ebola To Its Growth & Survival

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

It is now an accepted fact that the Ebola virus is in Liberia and is real. It has thus far claimed the lives of many Liberians. The disease which started from Lofa County has now spread to other areas. Even those who were skeptical and doubtful about the existence of this are now convinced that this deadly disease thus exists in this country, as the no longer harbor the notion that this was only for “’money making”, as there was nothing called EBOLA.

Indisputably, while this deadly disease has been linked to the medical field, especially so as it relates to man’s life, I have decided, considering its consequences to human life and survival, to deal with it in the context of being a threat to man’s survival, which comes in many forms. And so today, I have decided to look at this issue as a menace and threat to man’s survival.

Because of the flexibility of the English language, I see “Ebola” to mean anything that threatens the survival of man in his daily activities. Economically, I see Ebola as any activity or actions that threaten the growth and development of some activities of the country’s economy. As it is known, the media, as a “public institution,” is also a business that operates and survives from the kind of business it does, mostly in line with its business operation. This comes in the form of doing business with the public and institutions, including the government of Liberia that does business with the media to get information to the public on some of its activities.

The media, as part of its income-generating activities, always do business with the government, as it serves as the conduit between the people and the government. As such, the government uses the media in its public affairs activities to get pertinent and important information to the public. Among such businesses are those of the bidding processes, publication of announcements, the publication of speeches and special features or supplements on some of the activities that some of the government’s ministries and agencies undertake in line with their statutory mandate.

In most cases, these publications are done and pre-financed by the media, especially the print media, with the hope that payment would be done promptly by the government institutions. Regrettably, this has not been the case, which has now ensued between the government and the media over the payment of funds owed the media for work done for the government. The media has now embarked on a campaign to have thousands of United States Dollars government ministries and agencies owe the media. Someone puts this figure at nearly half million United States Dollars.

The problem of government’s indebtedness of the Liberian government to various media institutions is not a problem for now, as it has been in existence for years now. At one point, when the media mounted protest action and nonviolence approach to the issue, the government decided to make some settlements, with the view of making final payment later. Disappointingly, since what was referred to as “GOLDEN HASNDSHAKES,” during which time some payments were paid, nothing has been done to make settlements of the huge amounts the government ministries and agencies owe the struggling Liberian media. The government has not been able to live up to its promises, thus adding more to its indebtedness to the media.

Sometimes people argue that since the government is not meeting its part or side of the bargaining, the media should discontinue to do business with the government or to place an embargo on all works from the government. Every time the media threatens or attempts to take some actions, there would be some interventions or assurances. And so the media has been accommodating and tolerant, with the belief that things would improve for the better. As part of its engagement and interactive strategy, the media has thought otherwise to continue to do business with the status quo, hoping that one day the government would reserve this negative trend of delay in the payment of works done for its various ministries and agencies.

In all fairness, considering the volume of works being done by the media for the government, the continued delay on the part of the government’s ministries and agencies to pay for work done by the media, can be likened to killing the media or something that poses a threat, like Ebola, to the survival of the media. This cancer by the government is killing the media, as it continues to affect the life and survival of the media. The same way the Ebola virus is deadly, the action of the various government’s ministries and agencies is also deadly, as failure to pay also affects the operation of the medias as the media depends on such funds for its operation, an act, which could paralyze the media, knowing the huge amounts these institutions owe the media.

Whenever the issue of press freedom is spoken of, it is not just the issue of people exercising their rights to speak out, but also the environment, such as the economy of the country. When one speaks of the media economics, consideration is given to its ability to generate income for its operation. This comes from the placement of advertisements or supplements, as well as special features by the government and others.

The dichotomy of the media is that it is a “PUBLIC INSTITUTE and “BUSINESS.’ As a business, it generates funds and is also expected to pay legitimate taxes to the government which can only be done if the government and other media do business with pay for those works or placements in the media.

Interestingly, for this government its agencies always request tax clearance whenever they want to make payment. When they make request to carry an advertisement, they do not request to see tax clearance, but whenever it comes to making payment, it is then they demand tax clearance. How does the government expect the media to pay its taxes, when, this very government is an EBOLA” to the survival of the media?

This is a ‘Catch 22’ situation, as the media continues to serve the government because the people must be informed of its activities; the government does not see the need to make payment. This is also bad public relations. The government cannot be talking about building Liberian capacity and at the same time engaging in acts detrimental to its survival.

As the Health Ministry wage war against the deadly disease EBOLA, the Information Ministry of Mr. Lewis Browne, a former student activist, must also wage war against this “Economic EBOLA” virus that is gradually killing the independent media.