Media: Liberian Journalists’ Impersonation to Swindle Foreign Promotion Seekers: My Experiences

By Samuel G. Dweh

The Author

I am a Liberian freelance journalist. I have been on “my own”  after pulling out of Liberia’s mainstream media—following a meritorious work for more than seven print media institutions including Liberia’s oldest independent newspaper, Daily Observer, in 2011.

My main reason for walking out of the “employee community” of Liberia’s media is to maintain my “hard-earned journalistic integrity”, which I obtained from journalistic mentorship in the Nigerian media community between 2008 and 2010.  Working in the Liberian mainstream media had “stained” this Nigerian-clothed “journalistic integrity”. I jumped out fast—even though after being “messed up” for nearly five years—to launder the “negative image” (majority) of my employers had thrown on me and to continue with “Development Journalism”—the kind of media training my teachers at the Times Journalism Institute (TJI) and my Nigerian media employers (in Lagos State) “indoctrinated” me with.

So, after I took up the self-employment garment, beginning in 2015, all my news stories have been strictly “developmental”. Examples: A 26-year-old single mother (Rose Sieh) in Grand Kru County, driving Tractor with Indonesian palm oil processing company (Golden Veroluem) to support herself and her son (abandoned by the father); a 9th grade student (Jacob Trawally) in Margibi County sponsoring his education with the sale of his model “homes” (built from scraps) and contribute to feeding of his family; a 15-year-old, 5th grader (Jeremiah Somah), in Monrovia, constructing model storey buildings (from scraps) to get school fees; an 18-year-old, 8th grade dropout (Emmanuel Kollie) building model planes in Nimba County and Montserrado County (Monrovia) to find school fee to go back to school…..(the list of my published “development stories” goes on)

MY EXPERIENCES OF IMPERSONATION BY (OTHER LIBERIAN JOURNALISTS)

A man, abroad, called one of my telephone lines (0886618906 and 0776583266) in Liberia with a foreign line (+420608107569) at 6:23 (Liberian time) and first said: “Are you the FrontPage Africa newspaper’s journalist who covered our program at the Baptist Seminary you covered on Tuesday of this week?”

The “Tuesday” he spoke about was the 4th day of March of 2020. The “Baptist Seminary” is a nationally popular Mission of the Baptist Church of Liberia, located few kilometers off Liberia’s International Airport, outside of the Nation’s capital, Monrovia.

“FrontPage Africa has published many of my articles, but I’m an employee of this news organ,” I replied.

“We haven’t seen your article about our program at the Baptist Seminary you covered for FrontPage Africa on Tuesday,” the caller insisted.

“I don’t work for FrontPage Africa newspaper in Liberia; you are mistaking me for the journalist you interacted with at the program you’re talking about,” I responded.

“We paid for publication of the story,” the caller said, and switched off his phone.

FRONTPAGE AFRICA NEWSPAPER’S RESPONSE

About one hour after the discussion between the foreign caller and me, I met FrontPage Africa’s Desk Chief, Mr. Lennart Dodoo, and relayed the foreign caller’s complaint.

Mr. Dodoo responded to my message: “We had received dozens of similar complaints about impersonation from different persons as victims. Some of the complainants report threats by some of the impersonators to damage their image in a news story if they (victims) failed to give them money.”

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF IMPERSONATION

On July 23, 2019, I covered the official opening program of a Chinese Plywood Company—Shangyou Wood—in Todee, Electoral District #1 of Montserrado County, Liberia, on authorization by a Liberian official (Consultant) of the Company. The story appeared in the FrontPage Africa newspaper two days later—after it appeared on the paper’s website.

However, the Company’s Liberian consultant who contracted me refused to release the “friendship” amount he promised me. “My Chinese colleagues had told me a journalist from FrontPage Africa had collected the money. Because you had told me that you usually give your stories to FrontPage Africa, I thought you were the person who collected the money,” he said to me on my fourth payment follow-up visit to the Company’s Head Office in Sinkor, Monrovia.“I can’t go yo your colleagues for money, when I know you are the person who invited me. Take me to those Chinese colleagues who said I collected money from them.” I said.

My response vindicated me from the impersonation he was insinuating.

WHY JOURNALISTIC IMPERSONATORS PREFER FRONTPAGE AFRICA NEWSPAPER TO CARRYOUT THEIR CRIMINAL ACT.

FrontPage Africa, under the leadership of Mr. Rodney Sieh, one of Liberia’s prolific journalistic writer, and leading investigative journalist, as the Managing Editor, is Liberia’s current most-read newspaper (choice of most Liberian newspaper readers and foreigners in Liberia)—due mostly to the paper’s outstanding investigative stories (with irrefutable facts) above those of other newspapers, the paper’s editorial distinction (spellings and grammar) above majority of the other papers, and the paper’s regular online presence.

WHY LIBERIAN JOURNALISTS ARE IMPERSONATING TO SWINDLE FOREIGNERS

At every “news-making program”, you will see swarm of “journalists”—majority of them brandishing “Press ID card” to the faces of the organizers of the program before the program commences. Majority of them are “hangers-on”—not invited to the program, but there to get their share of any “left-over cash” beside the “media coverage fee” for only press people (from reputable media institutions) officially invited to the program. This showing of identity card means: “I’m a journalist, I’m here to cover your program, so don’t forget me on the media coverage fee”. When presentation time reaches, these “press people” scramble for spaces for their voice recorders near the sound amplification box to capture the voice of the “main speakers” at the program. When the program ends, these “join-the-list” journalist form a ring around the program owner for money, or “engage” each of the “main speakers” by raising their voice recorders up to the person’s face and begin asking series of questions—some of them unrelated to the main subject discussed at the program—with a promise of relaying the speaker’s voice through their respective mediums.  Majority of the “hangers-on” (Liberian press people) at every program are not employees of “leading media institutions” (like FrontPage Africa) they called to promotion-seekers at programs—and they do publish the “stories” for which they asked for or received money at program. They are swindlers! Con-artists!

The person who called from abroad to me on Thursday, March 5, 2020 is one of the many preys of one of these swindlers parading in the Liberian media.

The major cause of impersonation in the Liberian media is POVERTY. Majority of Liberian journalists are dependent on a profession that is one of the poorest in the Country. No much money coming from sales of  newspapers (because majority of Liberians—including educated and financially wealthy ones—do not buy newspaers) and no much money coming from radio (because most of the information on the radio are “political”—insults—so most companies do not advertize with these radio stations) DEVELOPMENT REPORTING does not fetch money in present-day Liberia because much of the population is ingrained (in love with) “political reporting”—it’s all about what Government official stole what money or continues failing in his/her Executive, Legislative or Judicial functions.

RECOMMENDATIONS

I will restrict this to the person who called me on the “Baptist Seminary story” and to the management of FrontPage Africa newspaper of Liberia.

To the person who complained about his group’s story not being published: Always confirm the identity of a (Liberian) journalist from the EDITOR OR MANAGEMENT TEAM of the media institution he/she is telling he/she represents. If the person tells you he/she is a “freelance journalist” (like me)—some freelance journalists write or report better than those in the employ of a media entity—ask the person to show you one of his/her published stories in a newspaper or the link to his/her story on the website of a media institution that had published the story. JOURNALISTIC SWINDLERS ABOUND IN LIBERIA—MANY OF THEM CALLING THEMSELVES “VETERAN JOURNALISTS” AND BRANDISHING UNIVERSITY DEGREES IN MASS COMMUNICATION FROM A REAL LIBERIAN UNIVERSITY

To the Management of FrontPage Africa newspaper:  Run a two-month Disclaimer that would tell media-based promotion-seeker to call the paper’s editorial desk on anybody who has identified him/hers self as a “FrontPage Africa’s reporter” at the promotion-seeker’s event. This will save the paper’s “image” being “messed-up” by some hungry, desperate swindlers roving with journalistic gadgets—looking for promotion-seeking people to “devour”

WHY I WROTE THIS ARTICLE

I wrote this article for two reasons. Reason #1: to officially tell the foreign promotion seeker, who complained on me on Thursday, March 5, 2020, and other members of his group that I’m not the “the Liberian journalist” he did news story-publication business with at the Baptist Seminary on Tuesday, March 4, 2020. Reason #2: To advise my media colleague to desist from creating a criminal image of our Country’s media practice to “foreigners” who are interacting with them today so that they (foreigners) could create a employment opportunities for the general Liberian populace tomorrow.

Your upbringing (by your parent or guardian) of a journalist is reflected in his action toward a stranger!

The Author—president of the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW) and member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL)—m can be reached via: —+231 (0)886618906/776583266/samuelosophy@yahoo.com

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About Cholo Brooks 12126 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.