Is The Information Ministry’s Directive On Adverts/Supplements Practicable?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Another issue of discussion has sparked off as a result of a recent directive by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAI) that henceforth all advertisements or supplements to the media, especially newspapers should be channeled through the Ministry. The Ministry said this was necessary to ensure better coordination regarding the publications of adverts and subsequent payments. The action by the Ministry came days after the ministries’ government of Liberia completed its indebtedness tothe local media.

Announcing the measures recently, Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson called on government agencies and ministries to direct all announcements and advertisements including press conferences through the Ministry of Information (MOI). The deputy minister reportedly made the call in an announcement signed by the Assistant Minister for Information Services, Albert K. Jaja, which he read during the Ministry of Information’s daily Ebola press briefing at the ministry on Tuesday.

He said the measures which have been endorsed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf are intended to avoid any complications regarding oversight between government public relations officers and media houses.Jackson said the Ministry of Information will coordinate with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to ensure that publications are actually carried out to avoid misunderstanding when settling media indebtedness.

According to the announcement, as published by LINA, all ministries and agencies of government are “to abide by these administrative procedures as any debt incurred outside of this arrangement will be considered illegal and of no effect.” The deputy minster was quoted as saying: ‘these measures are intended to promote proper coordination between the government and media institutions; thereby bringing success to the entire country.”

It can be recalled that for years, media owners and publishers frowned on the attitude of government’s ministries and agencies for their failure to make prompt payments for services rendered media institutions. That led to the intervention of the President based on numerous appeals and concerns by media owners and publishers, as they expressed outrage over the prolonged settlements of money owned. At one point the publishers settled for what was known as “Golden Handshake’, at which time the government made some settlements.

Despite the compromised or bargained position by the publishers, government ministries and agencies again reneged to make prompt settlement or payment of money to media houses for services performed. Unsurprisingly, that led to another engagement between the governments through the Ministry of information. That led to renewed discussions between the publishers through the Publishers Association of Liberia (PAL) which as was followed by a scrupulous vetting process that resulted in the settlement of its indebtedness to the media. It was following that that the Ministry issued the directive, and insisted that all concerned should abide by “these administrative procedures as any debt incurred outside of this arrangement will be considered illegal and of no effect”.

Noticeably, during these engagements, the government through the Ministry raised concerns that some of the newspapers published adverts they were not authorized to carry in newspapers. Apparently, it was based in this concern that the government has decided to centralize all advertisements or supplements to newspapers, to avoid the problem it had encountered with the independent media on the payment for advertisements.

While I share the Ministry’s concern for a well-coordinated approach to the issue of payment for services, I think that this directive would be cumbersome for the Ministry in handling this aspect of government’s media activities to the public.I respect the “CLEARING HOUSE” role of the ministry on movement’s information dissemination. But for this one, I beg to differ. This may even impede the effectiveness and efficiency of these agencies in making certain announcements during some hours and days when these ministries or agencies want placements when not available.

I had thought that the Ministry’s directive would be that publishers should insist on “Letter Of Authorization” for the publication or broadcast of adverts or other public service notices or announcements. This, I believe is the best way out of previous problems over the issue of whether or not government is obligated to pay for all of the ads from its ministries and agencies that are carried in the newspapers.

Let me conclude by saying that, I also frown on the publication or broadcast of unauthorized adverts or supplements, as raised by the government, by some media practitioners. If this is true, then, it is unbecoming and MUST, therefore, stop!

Once more, I urge the Ministry to reconsider this centralized approach to advertisements, but MUST insist that media houses MUST be authorized before carrying any adverts from government ministries and agencies.

Hence, the Publishers Association of Liberia MUST constructively engage the Ministry on this matter.

I Rest My Case, relying on the sound judgment of Minister Lewis Brown and his team for reconsideration on this matter.