By George Sarwah Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org
Politicians bent on undermining the independent press in Liberia have successfully captured the loyalty of some media stakeholders by turning them into stools against their own fraternity.
The writing is on the wall as the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) currently lies in disarray. Every media actor in Liberia knows the routine struggle the media go through just to survive, yet some leaders have betrayed the Journalism Fraternity.
Journalism is betrayed and the public trust as Liberia goes to election is questioned. The Walter Williams’s 1914 Journalist’s Creed is thrown in the dustbin by the actions and inactions of some of the principal actors of the press.
“I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.”
Today’s politicians stagnate independent press and the watchdog role of the media by taking on dominant media ownership not just in Monrovia but in rural communities as well. Liberia’s leading media development entity, Internews recent media barometer (2022) identified radio stations both commercial and community, 63 of which are truly community radios. Of the total number of radios, 49 politically owned/aligned or partisan radio stations, as well as a number newspapers; needless to mention politicians’ online television which exists in free space. At one point in time, news filtered around Monrovia that the governing Congress for Democratic Change was contemplating the setting up a radio station as is the technical and vocational school at its headquarters.
Media economy in trouble
As if it is not enough, the bad media economy in Liberia kills the zest of independent media workers. Advertisement as the traditional lifeblood of the media is at its lowest pace, the government remains the indomitable advertiser but pays bills at will and at least twice a year. Media economists, even on fertile business ground, wouldn’t count hardcopy sales of the newspapers as significant income. Now that the reading population keeps declining, especially for hardcopy papers, one can only suggest that overage makes a good stack in the newsrooms daily. All this is meant to say, the media business is in trouble in Liberia. The industry is left alone to think beyond the ordinary and turn 180 degrees to contemporary strategic business development and innovation model. But how would all this work with the haul and pull at the top of the industry?
Painstakingly, political manipulation, so determined to turn the mass media into a mass choir homogenously singing and dancing to the beat of politicians, seems to be holding water. These politicians front money to get media leaders and actors to troop to their political agendas at the detriment of the All-powerful, Almighty Journalism Fraternity.
Stories parading in the corridor of unconfirmed reports speak highly of mainstream political operatives that infiltrated the recent Press Union of Liberia’s Elections in the Central Liberian City of Gbarnga, last November. Claims and counter-claims today have brought the PUL to a status of total paralysis and even some say non-existence. An election of 1211 registered voters only saw 350 vote cast, 29% of the registered members of the Press Union of Liberia. Today, the rest is court matter.
Our Press Union of Liberia is now beclouded by a wilderness experience with a costly implication of development partners shying away from the umbrella organization of the media in Liberia. It is a known fact that the PUL is a strategic partner in ongoing media development activities in the country. Now that the leadership crisis persists at the PUL, it is obvious, donor actors may be confused as to what role and who represents the PUL in project activities and at stakeholder gatherings like the just ended World Radio Day. They too don’t want to be seen as party to any internal wrangling confronting membership organizations like the PUL.
The election crisis at the Press Union brings to the limelight the intolerance and uncontrollable attributes of the media in democratic exercises. Not only has this exposed media leaders to disloyalty to their own profession, but it has also shown Liberians and the world that the watchdog itself is a manipulator of democratic tenants and peace breaker for its own sanity.
For a crucial presidential election in October that requires Liberia to conduct its own election in the absence of United Nations Peacekeepers, the press that should be carrying out conflict-sensitive election reporting is on its own incapable of addressing electoral disputes. The press has played in public glare untrusted, and unresolved to speak truth to power, because it has publicly failed to speak truth to itself first.
At this juncture, conflicting parties in the press union disputed elections need to rescind their selfish positions and prioritize the sanity and dignity of the Fraternity (Journalism). Resolution of conflict usually requires a let-go mind-set.
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