4 February 2013

Liberia: Detesting Government's Treatment of the Media


Liberia last week made another history by holding of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post- 2015 Global Development Agenda held at the Grand Royal Hotel in Monrovia. The meeting which was co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and British Prime Minister, David Cameron was aimed at recommending a comprehensive report to the UN Secretary General by May 2013 on how to tackle extreme poverty, access to safe drinking water, threats to environment from pollution and climate change among others.

The Monrovia meeting was a follow-up of the first meeting held in London; the second has taken place in Monrovia, while the next is expected to take place in Indonesia in March this year. The Panel is tasked by the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to develop a framework for a post 2015 development agenda. Its vision and responsibility is to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development and to have in place building blocks of sustained prosperity for all. Its transformational agenda is to create jobs, development infrastructure, raise productivity, improve competitiveness and promote sustainable production and consumption.

Accordingly, in preparation of the gathering, the Government of Liberia accredited media institutions to cover the event. At the time, those responsible for this insisted that media institutions that will forfeit this will not be allowed to cover the event and so media institutions began moving there like an animal chasing its prey to get accredited, something that was done.

Surprisingly on the first day of the event, the very government reportedly selected a few media institutions to cover the event. Our institution was among the many accredited media institutions that was deprived this opportunity. We promptly raised the issue, with the view that perhaps this was an oversight or mistake on the part of the organizers because our reporter suffered inconveniences on grounds that THE INQUIRTER was not listed as some of the institutions that the Government selected to cover the meeting. Upon noticing this, we raised issues with the relevant authorities at the Executive Mansion and Information Ministry. Both claimed not to have had knowledge about this embarrassing situation.

Hoping that by expressing concern about this issue, it would have improved on the second day, sadly to note it worsened on the second day with more journalists expressing concerns and disappointment, especially when they gathered that it was the Ministry of Information that did the selection of a handful of media institutions to cover the event. The Ministry was able to enforce this through a memorandum it issued to security officers at the various entrances.

In its memo to security officers assigned at the venue of the meeting, the Information Ministry said, "as per the common consensus reached in our meeting of January 24, 2013 with all the HLP legitimate stakeholders only the below listed local media institutions will cover the main event at the Grand Royal Hotel, on February 1, 2013 to avoid over crowdedness. It named the institutions to cover the meeting as MICAT, UNMIL Radio, LBS, Truth FM/Real TV, Daily Observer, Frontpage Africa, New Democrat, and the Analyst newspaper. (See below for a copy of the memo).

We are concerned about our exclusion because it was very unfair that the government deprived other media institutions from covering the event. If the Ministry or the government wanted a few media institutions to cover the event, it should have properly stated that and avoid accrediting media institutions. When one accredits an institution or individual in such a form and manner, it gives that institution or individual the green light to be a part of the event.

More nauseating was the denial by the Ministry of Information, when, in fact, it was aware of this selective method by issuing a memo. The Ministry of information should not resort to the ugly past of denial, when it is aware of the fact. Gone are the days when comments or statements from the Ministry beclouded believability.

In the initial stage when the Ministry and the Executive Mansion were contacted, the Ministry should have been bold to clearly and unequivocally state that it made the selection of a few, instead of denying it. Can we now, considering the issue of denial, when in fact, the Ministry was the brain behind this selective method, rely on the ministry next time? The answer is anybody's guest. But as the mouthpiece of the government, its yea should be yea and its nay should be nay.

Let it be known that had we been aware that we will not be accredited to cover the event, we would have explored other means to still get the stories emanating from there. But since we were accredited, we then knew that we had a focus, which is, being exactly where the action was, by being present. That is, even without being accredited, we could not afford to miss such event, considering our duty to the public to have them informed and educated on the High Panel consultation.

Again, the government was unfair to these many institutions. I can imagine that the visitors or guests were even shocked to see a handful of media institutions at such a gathering with some world leaders in a country that boasts of the proliferation of media institution and freedom of the press. Those who were there saw the number of foreign press that outnumbered the Liberian press. What an egregious blunder on the part of the Ministry! But again, as it is said, "to err is human" and we hope this will not be repeated.

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