A Rejoinder to:“Does The Government Realize That It Is Stabbing Itself In The Legs?”

By: Atty. PNW

“If you give food to the poor, they call you a saint. If you ask why the poor have no food, they call you a Communist.” –

By: Cicero Nyanfor Joseph

The intriguing debate of democratic development in Liberia will for a long time to come invoke multiple arguments and thought processes. Some could be incensed by vagueness, emptiness and complete lack of merit of substance. Can anyone tell us ever since independence, which administration has been the most politically tolerant and accommodating? Liberians seemingly have forgotten so soon.

A people without a history are doomed as they lack one-third of their human existence. Atty. Philip Wesseh is not one of those new kids on the block and as a veteran journalist – there is so much to be desire on account of historicity, and the tenets of responsible journalism.

When we endeavor to make a case about the government’s credentials in upholding press freedom, it will be unfair to weigh in through an isolated prism to make so-called informed determination. Atty. Wesseh has written several critical materials as a columnist but does he result to the blatant use of invectives to make a point? No! As frustrating as his recent article is – he did not choose to become insulting.

Atty. Wesseh attempts to convey to his audience that two unrelated issues amount to the government stabbing itself in the back. For the purpose of our counter-argument, we would rather dwell on the specifics that have been deliberately ignored whatsoever using the lawyer’s premise for his thesis.

A local talk-show host in our country where democracy is in its infancy sees an opportunity to participate in a democratic space by heralding total lack of respect, courtesy and decency for elders, constituted authority lets alone a typical Sunday School moral conformist tendency.

The naked action of abusing the airwaves through the use of vulgarities when no one determines the who is listening especially in a country where we are deeply worried about our kids’ future owing to a decadent breakdown of societal norms – the radio should be the last outfit for poor and wrong indoctrination as well as influence. If this is what Atty. Philip Wesseh seeks to turn a blind eye to and thinks press freedom is being muzzled, we are sorry our country is headed in the wrong direction. We all would not sip from the same wine glass.

Surely, two wrong cannot make any right! What is the issue? There is a curfew in place and a reckless talk-show host decides that he will ignore the ordinance and go about on a care-free spree to challenge. Firstly, the talk-show host violated the curfew and the rules of engagement are clear. Did we investigate why he was held as others were allowed to go free? No! As a proponent of crude behavioral culture; he engaged the security forces in a war of words when he knew he was already in violation of an existing curfew. Agree he is a talk-show host and must be allowed to flout the law. Was he treated like Hassan Bility and incarcerated without trial? He had his day in court. So, although Atty. Wesseh claimed on the one hand the government was stabbing itself in the back – his show-biz radio talk-show host was given an opportunity before the law.

Freedom of the press cannot be measured through the multiplicity of media outlets (press, television or radio) but the responsible use of platform in a civilized manner. We are not in the days of “Monrovia-based or Gbarnga-based Press” when propaganda weighed in so irresponsibly.

We all including Atty. Wesseh can help this country when we encourage our colleagues and newfound social cum political commentators to appreciate that the fundamental trademarks of good journalism are embedded in balance, impartiality, fairness, equal access and the aura to take responsibility for our actions whatsoever.

Bad journalism is permeating the fabric of our society – rather than give those bad eggs reasons to believe they are doing the right thing we must chastise them and we think the PUL should not pamper these elements as well. It is all about calling a spade a spade. If this country must be seen as one of laws – we should not inspire gangsterism as a fulcrum of professional journalism. Do we consider incitement and lawlessness as ethical and responsible? Atty. Wesseh can indeed assist in the process.

Have we forgotten Rwanda and the misuse of the media that led to so many deaths? Have we forgotten how others used the media in 1992 to send our compatriots to their early graves in the so-called “Operation Octopus?” Granted we all might not see through the same barometer; but all those who mean well for our country cannot be barred from criticizing in as much as civility informs that process.

While the work of the media as Fourth estate of the realm is laudable – there is a difference between ‘news’, ‘sentiments’, ‘propaganda’ and ‘court of public opinion’. But the wit of a credible journalist is to report the news impartially, responsibly, fairly and in a balanced manner. Mind you, equal access to all sides enfolds professionalism.

Atty. Wesseh brings into the equation the issue of residence status of a non-Liberian working in Liberia and seemingly meddling in the internal politics as such. Our compatriot and lawyer should rather ask Ambrose Nmah to narrate his experience in Ghana while working with a local station in Accra. Are we saying the routine operations of the Bureau of Immigration should cease to exist because a quasi-foreign journalist has turned outspokenly critical and inciting? We have place for foreign residents who know their limitations and this is not peculiar to Liberia. Foreigners within our borders will continue to remain subject to our Immigration and Naturalization laws. We cannot bend the rules and the timing is a non-issue for the record.

Our compatriot and veteran journalist Kenneth Best was forced out of his homeland as conflict raged. Do not ask us why he fled especially when Daily Observer faced successive arson attacks. He relocated to the Gambia to establish the Gambian version of Daily Observer. One Sunday morning – in the mid-90s, he was bundled up unto a plane destined for Liberia because the Observer had reported an unsavory story in the West African nation. He didn’t have the same opportunity Atty. Wesseh’s client is apparently undergoing. Would the non-Liberian have any reason to fear when her immigration papers are in order? Let us not forget she has been in-country for more than five years. As a resident, doing the right thing within the ambit of the law should be a priority.

It is crucial to encourage a critical and thriving media environment but those at the center of professional gate-keeping cannot allow sentiments to take precedence of professional and ethical tendencies.