By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Because of the death of my old man and one of my mentors in the journalism profession, , Willis D. Knuckles, who was peacefully buried last Saturday in Careysburg, I decided to observe today as a “Day Of Mourning” today in his memory. However, development on Thursday in Monrovia, that brought about wide spread rumor, has necessitated me to change gear of what I had previously planned to do for the deceased, as a mark of respect and honor for all he did for me while on earth.
As I have repeated in two articles about rumor-mongering that what is difficult in this kind of communication, commonly referred to as the GRAPEVINE, is the tracing of the origin of the source of a piece of rumor, that would usually spread rapidly from one person to another. It is such that as it leaves from one person to another, there is always the possibility of its being garbled.
This ugly situation of rumor-mongering was experienced last Thursday when it was rumored in parts of the city suburbs that there was shooting by security officers in the city, a situation that caused serious fear and panic to an extent that normal activities in parts of the suburbs of the city, especially in the Duala Market vicinity, were disrupted.
Similarly, the rumor also spread to some areas, including the popular Red Light Market that also caused people to be imbued with fear. First it was said that a mad man attacked a police officer, later it was learned that it was because of the news from Monrovia about the shooting in the city that caused the panic in that area.
The news about the reported panic and fear about the rumor of the shooting came to light in the evening when relatives in the Duala areas inquired from their relatives who were in the city, as to what was really happening in the city. They reported how people were running for their lives because it was widely rumored that there was shooting in the city, which may eventually have an effect on them. Therefore, in keeping with the first law of nature, which is self-preservation, they decided to vacate the street to their various homes.
Interestingly, as relatives “in town” refuted anything of shooting in the city, those in the Duala areas and other parts, persistently inquired on really what was going on. With disbelief, because of the high level of the rumor, there were still inquiries of this issue of shooting. In some instances, this paper and some of its staffers received numerous calls on the issue. Some called to ask: “What’s really happening in the city? They said they are shooting in Monrovia.” The situation was like from one inquiry to another on the matter until “the newspaper went to bed” (sent to the press for printing).
Prior to this Thursday scenario, there was another rumor on Wednesday that police has arrested caskets filled with arms, something that proved the opposite, but as the rumor spread, many person stormed the Zone Three Police Depot to see the arms. Later, it was discovered that the caskets contained two bodies.
It should be noted here that since the declaration of the state of emergency, the rumor mills have increased. Some said the decision was taken because of security problems facing the country; others said it was taken, not necessarily for the Ebola, because arms have been discovered in some part of the country and that the state of emergency was the only meant to quell any act detrimental to national security. And so, for sometime, rumors have been around.
The situation about rumor in recent times is like this country is sitting on time bomb, because every other day has its own rumor. As one professor said, rumor is what people make of a situation that is, whenever there is a situation, one should expect the spread of rumor, without discovering the source of origin. Yes, the Thursday rumor was what people made of the situation of the number of police officers in the streets to close down the National Chronicle newspaper of Mr. Philipbert Browne. Someone may have interpreted what he or she saw with the presence of the heavily armed police officers and the number of officers sent to carry out the closure of the newspaper to others in Duala in a way that suggested the issue of shooting.
As it is common, as rumor travels from one person to another or from one channel to another, those who also spread it may likely add or subtract. And so in this particular situation, someone may have misinterpreted the initial rumor to mean shooting, thus, spreading it in a different fashion and manner; something that led to this unnecessary fear and panic last Thursday.
More importantly, besides the spread of the rumor, the presence of the police officers to effect the closure of the newspaper caused lots of panic on Carey Street. That even led to the closure of businesses and the restriction of the movement of people. As a result of that, it was initially speculated that that was all intended to arrest the publisher and managing editor of the newspaper, Mr. Brown. However, later it was gathered that it was all intended to close down the newspaper, whether it was by court order or in line with the State Of Emergency, that stresses the suspension of certain rights, when the need be.
Let me say that this article is not intended to look into the merits and demerits of the closure of the newspaper, as this could be handled later. This piece is intended to look at the decision of whosoever that ordered the police officers, in such a colossal number that moved belligerently to go and close down a newspaper, for whatever reason. The presence and mood of the number of officers, coupled with the disruption of businesses in that part of the city, gave rise to the rumor that came out that day.
Worst of all, the sound that characterized the alleged forceful opening of the offices of the newspaper and the alleged use of teargas that carried sound, may have been taken for the shooting that reached the suburbs of the city.
All in all, I blame those who authorized the method that was used by the police officers only to close down a single newspaper. Why was such number of officers deployed in such combat position, as though they were able to attack a garrison or to quell a situation that threatens national security, thereby bringing about fear in the area, something that led to businesses hurriedly closing down for hours? Was there any threat at the time of the planned closure of the newspaper? I ask these questions because I’m still pondering why such a force that caused unnecessary panic and fear was used?
Lest we forget that we are in a crisis situation, with this deadly Ebola claiming the lives of our compatriots. This outbreak has already brought about unnecessary tension and all kinds of rumors, therefore, those in charge of national security, no matter of any planned action, should be very careful and mindful of how they go about in carrying out such actions. Once more the authorizing authorities erred for last Thursday’s action.
Even with the State Of Emergency, we as a government and people must be mindful of how we go about using force to effect certain actions or decisions. We must beware of what is called “excessive or unnecessary force,’ and also consider what is known as the “Proportionality Of Force” in such matter, like last Thursday. Indeed, last Thursday incident was bad public relations for the government.
Again, the decision to put such number of police officers in the street in such a belligerent manner and combat gear for the closure of a newspaper was not proper and appropriate. I hope my foster brother Chris Massaquoi, as head of the police and also a lawyer, has taken note of this embarrassment. I Rest My Case.