Dear Print Media Practitioners, We, a group of concerned citizens of the Republic of Liberia, based on what we have seen and heard, are worried that you in the print media may find it extremely difficult to operate or flourish under the second term of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf if you don’t tighten your belt.
We say this because, since the New Year, some of you have continued to experience or are experiencing difficulties in the form of threats, law suits, delays in paying you for adverts placed in your papers, or some other problem.
As you very well know, powerful individuals and institutions usually enjoy strangulating and intimidating the media, and the strangulation and the intimidation may come in various forms, and one of such forms is subjecting you to law suits, usually on bogus or frivolous points or charges.
If we were you, we would start reading the writing on the wall. Although we have read, heard and spoken about the unprecedented flourish of freedom of expression and of the press, don’t reason that it will always be the same, no matter what.
Many powerful individuals and institutions in society, whether in private or public operation, master the game of clandestineness. They know what to do, which dots to connect, who to cajole or influence to have their way in society. As experience has shown, the real individuals and institutions behind the operation may not necessarily be the ones in front, and they may never be known.
Indeed, the water may be rough – too rough – for you as we go through the second-term administration of President Sirleaf. Why do we say this? Well, the first three months of the year has just ended. And see what has happened to you:
The Supreme Court slapped three newspapers – FrontPage Africa, News, and Daily Graphic – with a contempt charge because of their reportage. Who can win the Supreme Court in such a case?
Four other newspapers – New Dawn, National Chronicle, New Republic and Women Voices have just been sued at the Civil Law Court by Red Lion Night Club for a US$4m Action of Damages. It is said that some powerful individuals in society are behind it.
The Independent and Analyst newspapers have also just been sued by a son of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Mr. Robert Sirleaf, for publishing stories critical of his appointment and his deeds with the oil industry. According to reports, he filed a US$10 law suit against the two papers.
How many newspapers in all since this year? Nine! Yes, that’s right – nine newspapers have been sued since this year. And it is only in the first three months. Is it foolhardy to reason that the number could increase as the year progresses?
With constant reports about the court system being corrupt, with persistent news that judges and jurors accept bribe to render guilty or not-guilty verdicts as they see fit, according to US Human Rights Report, what confidence is there for one to have – that the right thing will be done?
Could it be that the print media will find it difficult to operate in President Sirleaf’s second-term terrain? Already, during the 2011 elections, the Sirleaf government closed down at least five media institutions – Kings FM Radio, Love FM, Love TV, Power FM and Power TV – because, according to the government, the institutions “illegally used their respective media outlets by broadcasting hate messages against the government and deliberately spreading misinformation and messages of violence.”
Also, as some of you may already be aware, there are rumors that the desire of some powerful individuals in government is to drastically reduce the number of newspapers operating in the country because, according to those behind the scheme, the newspapers are “writing all kinds of things that are embarrassing” them. But, of course, those thinking in this fashion or having this game plane will use subtle statements that will confuse even the very people in the print media. Sometimes government uses people in the media to hurt the media.
In view of all this, we, the group of concerned citizens mentioned earlier, therefore, urge you to be vigilant, determined, steadfast and uncompromising in what you are doing. Be mindful, too, that some of your colleagues may have links with the power that be. Don’t be confused.