Last week, after several years, I surfaced at the Liberia News Agency where I started my journalism career. I was there for re-assignment after what has been referred to as a World Bank-Governance Commission reform process in the Office of the Vice President robbed me of a sustainable source of livelihood. I had been instructed to proceed to the Ministry of Information for re-assignment because as a Civil Servant I cannot be laid off without just cause. Thank God I left this office after six years with my reputation intact. I bless God that nobody framed me to destroy my hard earned reputation.
Upon entering the agency, the old adage “How have the mighty fallen” immediately came to mind. The mighty had indeed fallen. The LINA I saw that day and the one I knew in the 1980s were incompatible. In fact, the LINA I saw was a mere shadow of what it used to be in the 1980s.
The agency is currently housed in an open space which has become the venue of called meetings of Ministry of Information staff. I saw one desk in this open space which used to hold the News Desk, Home Desk and Foreign Desk, apart from the office of the Assistant Editor-in-Chief which was enclosed in a cubicle. The office of the Director-General who is statutorily Editor-in-Chief of the Agency, and his deputy are currently in the adjacent office, where the agency’s tele-printers and other equipment, used to be kept. Apart from the editor (I don’t know whether news or home desk) who was seated on a desk behind a computer, all other personnel of the Agency I set eyes on were seated on benches and chairs watching Nigerian movies on one of the local television stations.
The Director-General’s office has two desks, but what struck me was the stockpile of damaged computers and their accessories. When I enquired from the deputy director general, I was informed that they were awaiting repair work.
The only thing that uplifted my spirits a bit was the reactivation of the LINA Bulletin. When I took a close look at the bulletin however, I observed that it was it not only appeared in print once a week, but contained only stories from the counties, some of which were two weeks old. This was in sharp contrast to what obtained in the 1980s, when bulletins containing news stories from all over the country were published daily. The bulletins did not only contain news items, but commentaries about happenings in the country. I left the agency down-hearted.
After three days of vacillation, I was finally able to confront the two Deputy Ministers of Information, only to be told what I considered an insult to my very person. Brandishing the latest edition of the LINA Bulletin, apparently to impress me that LINA was on the right trajectory, the Deputy Minister for Administration, informed me that the only position available at the News Agency was that of Desk Editor. After he ended his outburst, I quietly told him that he did not have a job for me, and barged out of his office never to look back. His response was, “I don’t think you want to work with the Ministry of Information.”
I rejected the job because I could not see myself being reduced in status from Director of Press in the Office of the Vice President, and above all a former acting director-general of LINA to a mere Desk Editor in the same agency. Besides, what is there to edit? I consider myself still quite young to confine myself to editing news that come from the counties once a fortnight.
Having outlined the problems confronting the Liberia News Agency, I will now endeavor to proffer some advice as to how to usher the agency out of its quagmire. Firstly, LINA’s problem from time immemorial has been the fact that it has continued to cleave on to the Government, when it should be autonomous like other news agencies around the world. Nobody would like to fully support a news agency that is not independent of government control. The German Government through its development agency GTZ supported LINA in the 1980s, and the condition it set for continued support to the agency was autonomy. The dictatorial regime at the time however refused to grant the agency autonomy, thus compelling the GTZ to withdraw its support. It is therefore welcome news that the World Bank has recommended the granting of full autonomy for LINA in its reform program. If granted autonomy, LINA will not only be able to chart its own course, but attract funding from international partners.
In the face of the perennial dearth of government funding of public institutions, LINA should consider engaging in fund-raising activities that will make its operations sustainable. One fund-raising activity the agency’s management can embark on is to begin to market its bulletin. This will however be practicable if it includes in its coverage news from Monrovia, and not only the counties, and should go daily. The Agency’s management should contact diplomatic missions, UN agencies and international agencies as well as business houses to subscribe to the bulletin at reasonable cost so as to make agency viable.
Another means by which the agency can raise funds is to publish a monthly magazine like we did in the 1980s. For the agency to be able to market its news however, it needs qualified personnel. The government should therefore provide scholarships to the current staff as well as other journalists to improve their journalistic skills so that they can man the agency and make it one of the best in Africa.
Besides, any national news agency should have its own website to enable it distribute its news items worldwide. The fact that LINA does not have its own website is a pity. I hope that the new Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism will consider these proposals and recommendations to make LINA one of the best in Africa.
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