By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Over the years, I have observed and continue to observe that whenever there are issues of national concern or debate, there would always be different angles, apart from the main issues. In other words, as the debate continues on the main issues, such a situation would produce other issues that are also of public interest or reference. In the field of journalism, which is a subset of mass communication, this is referred to as the “Side Bar,’ while the cardinal issue of discussion or debate is referred to as the “Main Bar.” In other words, this is also known as the ‘the other side of the story,” which is important in Investigative Journalism, but at times, is useful on issues of public concern and discussion, like the ongoing debate.
Last week, it was common knowledge that the major issue of discussion which unsurprisingly formed major headlines in the media, Legislature, street corners and at rendezvous was the request by President Sirleaf to the National Legislature, seeking extra power in the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus. However,since it was learned that the President had made such request, there have been strong opposition or rejection to her request. One of my lawmakers, Bhofal Chambers said even former dictator Adolf Hitler of Germany, could not have even made such a request.
While I do not agree with the President’s communication, I feel such a comparison, considering the distasteful activities of Hitler by my lawmaker, was inappropriate. Notwithstanding, I respect his rights to speak out his mind on this debate. However, that is not the issue for this piece.
As it is already known, the issues that the President is seeking approval under the State of Emergency are 1. Alteration of Election Time and Manner; 2. Labor; that is to procure certain labor or services during this State of Emergency; 3. Free Movement; 4.Religious restriction- to restrict certain religious practices generally or specifically, if she finds that such practice further endangers the public health and contribute to the spread of the virus. 5. Restriction on speech: 6. Assembly- to limit the right to assembly for any reason and 7. Appropriation of Property.
Since I joined the debate on the President’s letters last week, I have written two articles, maintaining that such a request was not necessary. In the first article, specifically on restriction on speech, I said such a request on restriction on speech was not necessary considering the level of press freedom and likened such a request to “wasting water on duck’s back” because at level at which free speech and freedom of the press have reached is irreversible and that any attempt to curtail this could be a fruitless exercise. I concluded that piece by saying that the President is creating unnecessary headache for herself or unwarranted public debate on this issue because the level of freedom this country has reached is so unprecedented and, as such, remains irreversible. Besides, the very constitution that also guarantees this State of Emergency, makes it succinctly clear that ‘freedom of expression” shall not be curtailed, even in an emergency, as stated in article 15(a), which states,” Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoyed by government, save during an emergencydeclared in accordance with this Constitution.”
In the second article published yesterday under the caption: MADAM PRESIDENT, I STILL BEG TO DIFFER, which grew out of a second communication on the same matter sent to the National Legislature to elucidate on her previous one, I again said this was not necessary. I pointed out that the State of Emergency granted by the Legislature in august this year, gives her the power to act prudently and sagaciously in taking measures on this war against the Ebola virus. I maintained, and still maintain that there is no constitutional provision, as it is being misconstrued, that mandates her to state the kind of rights to be restricted. I then concluded that the letters were not necessary, as she already has the power to act. It was based on this she even imposed the curfew and quarantined certain areas.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DEBATE
Today, as the debate continues, I wish to take it from another angle in the public space. There is no gainsaying that the President has been censured for seeking this extra power, one of the important “SIDES” of this debate is the issue of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The other side of this debate on the president’s request shows the level of freeness, as it relates to freedom of speech and freedom of the President.
Relatively speaking, the fact that people can publicly disagree with the President, sometimes derogatorily, without fear and apprehension, sends a positive signal that we, as a nation and people are enjoying these freedoms, which are very crucial in the democratic process.
As someone who has been in the media for over three decades, I can consciously say that had it been in the past, some people who had disagreed with the President might have gone into hiding, or some would have left the country to seek political asylum in other countries. Besides, had it been in the past, some dare to “DISAGREE” with the President. Sometimes it was even like a taboo to take issue with the “Chief” or to take the “Chief” to task whenever the “Chief’ said something, especially in this matter where the Chief is asking for extra powers.
As I always said on such a matter, I do not support any disrespect to the Presidency, even if people would disagree with that office. I maintain that, that office, the highest in the land, should be treated with great reverence, even, in our disagreement on issues of national concern. But again, these are some of the “bitter pills” and tolerance we have to swallow or live with, as leaders to keep the freedoms on tract.
We must beware that although freedom is not absolute, for which the constitutional provision guarantee this freedom said those who abuse this could be held for any “abuse thereof,” we should always expect that some individual would, in the exercise of this freedom, say things that are not pleasant.
To digress a bit, as I was concluding this piece, I received information that the Government of Liberia remains adamant to reinstating the two key officials of the Health Workers Association. I see this as an act of insensitivity at this time of national crisis, especially in the health sector.
Once more on the issue at bar, let me re-emphasize that the other side of this debate on the President’s request to the National Legislature, is the freeness that characterized this ongoing debate. Hence, we must pat ourselves on the back, that we can disagree with the “Chief” and sometimes censure the “Chief.” This, I see as the other side of the ongoing debate, not necessarily the news angle. I Rest My Case.