28 November 2012

Liberia: Government-Media Bad Blood - When Will It End?


One of the crucial issues media practitioners, especially those in the private sector continue to raise with the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led government is the way and manner in which media institutions who perform services for government in the form of advertisement, continue to be treated when it comes to settling their obligations with the media for services performed.

The media has always accepted the policy of "Service Before Payment" in dealing with the government on ground that payment has to go through many processes, in keeping with the government's financial system. The government has always insisted that it cannot make any payment to media institutions if it does not perform. As a result, media institutions have over the years, since the inception of the Sirleaf's regime agreed to perform before payment.

Disappointingly, while the media is performing its part of the bargain, the government continues to create unnecessary bottlenecks by insisting that before any overdue payment is made, media institutions should present their tax clearance and business registration. Even with this, media institutions continue to conform, but the regrettable thing is that in most cases, after the presentation of these documents, some of the government ministries or agencies will delay payment, and when follow-ups are made, media institutions will only be told that the ministries of agencies lost the documents presented. Owing to this, another set of documents will be presented, thus causing delay in another payment. Sometimes it becomes frustrating to learn that the second set of documents submitted have been missing because of careless recording keeping system by some of these ministries and agencies.

At one point when the situation became so terrible, the President, following a meeting with media practitioners urged her officials to promptly make payments to media institutions for services performed by them for the government. Despite this assurance by the President, coupled with delay in making payments, media practitioners raised similar issues, during which time the President expressed surprise. As the situation remained unresolved at the time, it brought about a bad blood between the media, especially the Liberia Publishers Association (LPA) and the government over the delay in making payments for such act. This prompted the publishers to threaten a blackout of government's functions. As a result of the threat, the government and the media reached a deal for payment to be made, which the government has partly done, with some outstanding balance.

But what is of concern is that despite the President's intervention into the matter, this continues to be a problem, as payments continue to be delayed. Now, it has been learnt that one government's ministry is even requesting for "Article Of Incorporation" from media institutions before making payment for services rendered. What an unfair treatment and unnecessary bottlenecks on the part of the government in dealing with the independent media. Isn't tax clearance and business registration enough to show the payment of taxes and annual registration fees? Why is the media being treated this way during the administration of a leader who has won several awards, particularly, "Friends of The Media Award?"

I should not be misconstrued as suggesting that media institutions should not pay taxes to government. NO! This is not my concern. My concern is the delay in making payment and the new issue of Article Of incorporation. As media practitioners we are aware that the dichotomy of the media is that it is a business and public institution. As a public interest, we serve the interest of the public in lie with our social responsibility theory. Also, as a business, media institutions must operate in accordance with the laws of the country; more so, it relates to the operations of businesses in the country and this is why they pay taxes and fees as business entities.

As I end this piece, I urge the government, especially the President to put her feet down on this issue so that the award: "Friend Of The Media," will not diametrically denote something, rather than what the award stands for. Predictably, if this kind of unnecessary bottlenecks continue, I can say that this bad blood will continue between the government and the media because of "unfair dealings."

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