Liberia: Tracing Nation’s “Under-Development” to (Majority) Journalists’ Ignorance, Greed & “Political Biases”

By Samuel G. Dweh—development journalist |

 At age 173 (in 2020), there are no roads in most parts of Liberia; electricity and potable water is absent in most parts of Liberia; heaps of wastes (garbage) is turning into “mountains” in many parts of Liberia and many parts of the capital city (Monrovia) is stink with air from human faeces oozing out from burst septic tanks in many public places; many of the buildings (private and public) are still bearing the “dilapidated feature” the 14-year civil war (that ended in 2003) had left them in; Liberia’s agricultural, tourism, and other sectors are still in ruins (the way the civil war left each of them); the number of unemployed citizens (willing to work) is gradually reaching to the size of a “Country”; Liberia’s entire education system is a “mess” (former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf quoted); and National Government solely depending on other Countries’ Governments and International donor Organizations for “money” to provide basic needs for Liberia.

SELF-INTRODUCTION OF THIS WRITER

I am a professional writer (fiction and non-fiction), author (of Books—fiction and non-fiction), “Development Journalist” and winner of the “Development Reporter of the Year” for the “Media Excellence Awards” (2018) organized by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) I am a High School student.

MAJORITY JOURNALISTS’ IGNORANCE

Ignorance in the Liberian media community has two phases—for me. One phase is lack of knowledge in the communication medium (English Language) and the news story’s subject (examples: Agriculture, Tourism, etc.) On the “subject”, majority of journalists—even the “veterans”—have shallow knowledge on their “Beats” (assignment areas/sectors)

MEDIUM OF COMMUNICATION: For the print section (newspaper) of the Liberian media, I had worked with dozens of Liberian journalists from my being a proofreader (first at Daily Observer, Liberia’s oldest independent newspaper, in 2011), News Editor, and Editor-In-Chief. I had worked for over 13 print media entities—before I finally pulled out of the Mainstream media in 2015 on reasons based on economics and personal integrity (to protect my hard-earned reputation)

Samuel G. Dweh is a member of the Wedabo ethnic group of Grand Kru County, situated in the South-Eastern part of Liberia. He’s a member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), and President of the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW) He can be reached via: —+231 (0)886618906/776583266/samuelosophy@yahoo.com

Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, publisher of Daily Observer, employed me (a High School student during that time—2011) because I had “deeper knowledge in Spelling and grammar than many of the paper’s editors who had applied with University degree” (Direct quote of Mr. Best) I had met him to employ me as a “reporter”, and he gave me three tests—write one news story, write one article, and write one editorial. After the first trials, he gave me another one: Read through several copies of different editions (making up a File) and write notes on what you had seen in each of the papers. Going through each paper, I noticed many spelling and grammatical errors and produced notes on the various errors. I submitted my findings. After going through my assignment, Mr. Best declared: “You said you want to be a reporter, but I will accept you as a proofreader of Daily Observer. After going through the entity’s tests for you, I realized you, the proofreader, will see reporters’ spelling and grammatical errors editors here will not see.” But he added a caveat: “If there’s any errors of spelling and grammar in the paper, you are the person I will hold, not the editors who the stories passed through first.”

Mr. Best’s confidence in my “ability” was proven by my published article about grammatical errors in President Ellen Sirleaf’s Independence Day Speech (in 2011), entitled “Grammatical Stains in President Ellen Sirleaf’s Independence Day Speech (2011)” This article invoked sudden respect in one Daily Observer’s “chief editor” who had always overlooked me on ‘school-paper-qualification’.

As editor of different other newspapers, after I left Daily Observer after six months of service for economic reason, I encountered the problems I noticed in copies of the Daily Observer assigned to me as “comprehension test” and in stories by the paper’s reporters when I was employed. Most of the reporters—some of them graduated in Mass Communication from various Liberian Universities—had shallow knowledge of spelling of English words (in which they were often communicating) and elementary grammatical constructions. Some of them continued making mistakes—in disregard of my in-house (News Room) tutorials. At INSIGHT newspaper (my second work place after I left Daily Observer), one reporter—a university graduate—kept me tutoring him on the difference between “basis” (noun )and basic (adjective) over three months. The guy would write, “on the basic of” (in many different stories he submitted to me the News Editor), and I would change “basic” to “basis” and tell him ‘basis’ means ‘premise’ or ‘condition’ indicated in the context in which he was communicating through his news story.

Like their colleagues writing for newspapers, majority of electronic journalists (those on radio) often communicate in “flawed” English—wrong pronunciations. The most noticeable errors are with the “th” in a word (example: third person—they pronounce the word as if it the right spelling were “ted”) and “al” ending with a word (example: moral—they pronounce the word as if the right spelling were “moro”) This seems like an erasable “linguistic trademarks” by these journalists—trained in journalism schools or mentored by some of Liberia’s “veteran broadcasters”. Each of these incorrect pronunciations confuses foreign English speakers in Liberia, who need information from Liberians on the radio, and “misleads” Liberian students who listen to the radio to learn “Standard English” from broadcaster, newscaster, or Talk-show hosts.

MAJORITY JOURNALISTS’ GREED

Employers in the media are my main focus for this segment of the article. Most of them under-pay their reporters or keep them without a month’s salary over four or more months—while the employer is sampling different cars (personal vehicle) or regularly travelling abroad for vacation. These same media employers often rub their mouths against National Government or foreign investors over “bad labour practice” (failing to pay workers over a long period)

Many Liberian reporters are  pauper and some fight for “transportation fare” given by a newsmaker to a group of reporters at an event—caused by the employer’s insensitivity (failure to pay for reportorial service) This situation inspired me in 2018 to write an article entitled “Liberian Media: Why We Are Poor, Stagnant and Fighting for “kato”. NOTE: “kato” is Liberian journalistic parlance for “inducement” from a prominent person, especially a politician, to influence the journalist to write “promotional stories” about the “kato” giver in the journalist’s future stories on his/her. This is the main cause of the plenty “Public Relations information” (called “news stories”) in all Liberian newspapers or on the radio/television.

 

MAJORITY JOURNALISTS’ “POLITICAL BIASES”

All—or 99.8 percent of—of Liberia’s “independent” media institutions or journalist (in post-war Liberia) have “sold” their “independence” to three or more rich politicians and each entity’s or journalist’s is each political benefactor’s “tool” against his/her political opponent(s)

On the other hand, most independent media institutions are not isn’t generating revenue from the public (less than five percent of Liberian population reads newspaper; less than four percent advertize on television stations) and National Government and the private business community hardly pay the advert fee of their information advertized. The Diplomatic Community (Embassies, etc) are doing business with “one set of newspapers” (preferably the oldest media institutions)—most of whom under-pay their reporters or hold on to a reporter’s month’s salary over four to six months.

In January of this year (2020), most part of Liberia shook by the ‘worst effect’ of “political propaganda” by a male radio journalist (Sekou Sheriff) against the Vice President of Liberia, Madam Jewel Howard-Taylor. The journalist “insulted” the Vice President—on his “defense” of the Head of State—few days after the Vice President disclosed the “sour relationship” between her and the President. The VP made this disclosure in her complaints about the President-led Executive Branch depriving her office of (some) the “entitlements” (including bullet-proof vehicle) due the Office of the Vice President of Liberia as mandated by Liberia’s constitution. This journalist, working for Freedom FM—allegedly owned by a top government official—said two things that has lining of “insult” to Madam Howard-Taylor as a “mother” and based on her “political status” in Liberia. The two things the journalist said were: The Executive branch gave vehicle to the Vice President, but she “gave it to her boyfriend”; and that “sense should be beaten into the Vice President’s head” (for accusing the President George Weah-led Executive Branch of Government)

Liberian journalists’ “political biases” are causing national security threats, causing foreign investors to leave for other countries, and keeping away foreign investors looking for “safe business haven”

MEDIA ENTITIES AS “DEFENDERS” FOR “PLUNDERING” FOREIGN COMPANIES ON LIBERIA

Liberia’s forest areas are being plundered by foreign concession companies who came in the guise of being “Liberia’s foreign development partners”. The Country’s minerals (gold and diamonds) are being hauled every day by these exploiters. Local people (Liberians) living in places (Villages and Towns) with “huge mineral deposit” (being raked by these foreigners) are reporting these “plunders” each day. But Liberian “independent media institutions” either not “relaying” (publishing or broadcasting) these “national bankruptcies”—being one of their Public Relations responsibilities to these thievery by these foreigners.

Can you now imagine why Africa’s oldest Republic is “is broke”—in spite of its “abundant natural resources”?

NO “RECOGNITION” FOR “DEVELOPMENT REPORTING”

When I was in journalism school (Times Journalism Training Institute) in Nigeria between 2003 and 2004, my teachers often told me, “development reporting” develops a Country faster than “political reporting” would do. For example, they told me that story about “inventions” by an illiterate person, a grade-school student, or a school drop-out (think about Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg) can earn money fast for the person and develop his/her country faster than a story on a politician private life would do. So, I focused much on development reporting in Liberia, which earned for me the “Development Reporter of the Year Award” (mentioned earlier in this article)

However, employers in the Liberian media do not  “encourage” reporters to write “Development stories”, the National Government doesn’t have interest in news stories on “innovations”; and Liberia’s foreign International Development Partners (especially United Nations Development Project) has lost “interest” in “innovations news stories” in Liberia due, mostly, to overshadow of “political stories” in all newspapers and over all radio/TV stations everyday.

RECOMMENDATIONS

On ignorance, Liberian journalists should read extensively to deepen knowledge on spellings, grammar, and the subject to report on. For greed, remember that you won’t take your abundance material wealth with you to the grave. On “political biases”, remember your life could be shortened on “insult” of a politician, or your relative could did of “poverty” from national resource plunder by that foreign business person you’re “defending”

Who said Africa’s oldest Republic can’t move beyond this “disgusting feature” (under-development)?

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About Cholo Brooks 11575 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.