MICAT: Stop Opening Old Wounds

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

There is this aphorism or idiomatic expression, which states, “stop opening old wounds,” which principally means that people should stop bringing on the surface that had been discussed and agreed upon. In other words, it goes to say that one should avoid re-introducing what had been agreed upon in the past because by doing so would bring to light what had already been disposed of and more importantly, bring to the fore again those acrimonious exchanges or bitterness that characterized that particular issue in the past.

In the past, one of the issues in the past that brought a bitter or sour relationship between the media, under the banner of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) was the question of who should accredit journalists in the country. After a long debate on the issue, it was resolved that the Union should accredit practicing journalists in the country.

For the sake of the record and future reference, the Union and the Ministry at the time signed a Memorandum of understanding (MOU) putting to rest this question of who should actually accredit journalists in the country.

Interestingly, this week, I am hearing that the Ministry of Information is contemplating on re-introducing what had been passed upon by the Ministry and the Union in the past.

I take interest in this matter because I was part of this process that ended in the signing of the MOU, empowering the Union to accredit journalists in the country. There has been no question or issue about media institutions paying their various taxes, as business entities.

The dichotomy of the media is that it is a business and public institution. As a business, it must meet all of the requirements of running a business and at the same time pay required taxes. Today, this government has a policy that before it pays money owes any media institution, that institution must present its tax clearance. Even in the midst of financial difficulties, media institutions are complying with this policy, as business entity.

There is no question on whether media institutions are to pay taxes to the government. The question is the issue of the accreditation of journalists. If it is true that the Ministry is attempting to resurrect what had been laid to rest, especially so at this time of frantic effort to curtail this fight against the spread of the deadly Ebola virus that is claiming the lives of citizens.

Frankly, when I heard about this, I thought this was the usual rumor mongering in this country. It was until I read a press release from the ministry, that really prompted the writing of this to provide information and education that this matter had been disposed of and there is no need to re-introduce it. Comply with the Ministry’s annual permits renewal regulations.

In its latest stance as reported by KLINA, the Ministry said, “In accordance with chapter 31.8, D. of Liberia’s new executive law on the Act establishing the Ministry of Information, every journalist operating in the country is required to do an annual renewal of their permit during the second week of January,” Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson said.

Minister Jackson, speaking Tuesday at the Ministry of Information daily press conference held in the conference room of the Ministry in Monrovia, he noted that many journalists were not complying with this mandate, but noted that because the government is interested in promoting a free press, this directive has not been rigidly enforced.

He went on: “Because we believe in the centrality of the free press and that it must be promoted at all times, we have not rigidly enforced this regulation; some media practitioners are taking advantage of government’s modesty and are now ignoring this requirement. Meanwhile, Deputy Minister Jackson has said given the ministry’s responsibility to enforce this regulation, every media practitioner should avoid future embarrassment and comply with the ministry during times of permit renewal.”

In the meantime, the man who was secretary General of the Union at the time of the MOU, Frank Sainworla, on a wake-up piece on the issue, entitled MICAT’S Plan Totally unacceptable ,” the former secretary general in his piece said, “there’s no question about it, this must be resisted from the word, go! By doing so the Sirleaf government is only doing what MICAT under Taylor Dare not do.”

Explaining further, Mr. Sainwiorla, who recently left his post at RADIO VERITAS, said, “I was PUL’s secretary general when we pressured Joe Mulbah and his MICAT into signing an MOU delegating the accreditation of individual journalists to the PUL and registration of media houses to MICAT. Concluding, he emphatically and uncompromisingly said, “totally unacceptable.”

Comparatively speaking, as I always said, this government has received laurels for the level of press freedom and the necessary environment for free speech, therefore, it cannot be the very one to engage in such act as trying to accredit journalists. Besides, this would be a betrayal of the confidence and trust between the two institutions on this matter.

I urge MICAT and its managers to search the record of the Ministry on this matter, rather than trying to awake a sleeping dog, or open old wounds that would cause unnecessary excruciating pains, bitterness and acrimonious exchanges at this time when all efforts should be in way and means of curtailing the spread of this deadly disease.

As I conclude, let me say, a hint to the wise is quite sufficient, as this issue is MOOT. I Rest My Case, with reservation to return, contingent upon the response from the Ministry.