Monrovia — Liberia's Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), Lenn Eugene Nagbe has accused the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) correspondent in Liberia of being a member of the propaganda machinery of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of former President Charles Taylor.
NPFL, of which Mr. Jonathan Pay-Layleh is accused of having linked with, was one of Liberia's fiercest rebel factions during civil war.
The rebellious faction is noted of committing some of the heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Even though no one has been prosecuted in Liberia for their role in the 14 years of civil carnage, which claimed over 250,000 lives, left more than half of the population displaced and brought untold suffering to the nation.
In a live interview on the state-owned national broadcaster -- ELBC -- Min. Nagbe alleged that Mr. Paye-Layleh's decision to leave Liberia under the pretense of insecurity following President George Manneh Weah's comment at a press stakeout in Monrovia was deceptive and intended to portray a negative image of the Liberian Government to the international community.
The Information Minister said the President was right in his assertion that Journalist Paye-Layleh was undermining him (the President) during the war years while he (President) was advocating peace and disarmament because Paye-Layleh was a member of the propaganda machinery of Charles Taylor's NPFL.
"Since 1990, Mr. Paye-Layleh was a key member of the NPFL propaganda machinery," Nagbe stated.
When the Minister was further pressed by the bewildered interviewer, he went on: "You can quote me as the Minister of Information of Liberia. I am saying that Mr. Paye-Layleh was a part of the NPFL machinery that was advocating for the position of the NPFL at the time, and Mr. Weah was urging disarmament. Isn't that being against something somebody was pushing? Wasn't him one of the first editors of the Patriot newspaper and of the NPFL's Ministry of Information? I was there. I also served as an editor of the Patriot newspaper."
The Patriot newspaper, which Nagbe referred to, was one of the propaganda tools of Taylor's NPFL.
FrontPage Africa was unable to reach Mr. Paye-Layleh, who is one of the longest serving correspondents for the BBC. He is currently in the United States of America, where it is alleged he has sought asylum fearing threats to his life.
Prior to his departure for the United States, Mr. Paye-Layleh complained of his security following open allegation by President Weah that Paye-Layleh undermined him during the war with negative reportage while he was advocating for peace as an international icon.
Trying to defend his stinging allegations against Mr. Paye-Layleh as callers on the radio morning program showed no mercy in bashing at him, Nagbe noted that it was an irony for Mr. Paye-Layleh to live in Gbarnga, the headquarters of the NPFL rebel faction during the heat of the war, but had to flee for his life because of an answer to a question he asked the President.
"President Weah citied what he (Paye-Layleh) did in the past. The BBC has already made some inquiries to us and we have already responded. But I am disappointed in Jonathan because he was in Gbarnga in 1990, '91, '92, '93 when all the shootings were going on. People were bombing, shooting and he didn't run away. He didn't even get scare for his life, but because the President answered the question that he asked him? Then he jumped up and said he's going for political asylum. These people are being deceptive. It is unfair for you as a journalist to try to create a situation that there is a clamp down on Liberian press freedom when there is none. Nobody is running behind him," he lambasted.
Speaking on the relationship between the Government of Liberia and the Press, Nagbe noted that the Liberian Government remains committed to promoting freedom of the press but will not cease to respond to what he termed as "any negative reporting."
Making specific reference to FrontPage Africa Managing Editor Rodney Sieh, Nagbe voiced that Facebook is an unregulated platform that cannot be used as a yardstick to measure press freedom in Liberia.
"We can guarantee that freedom of the press will not be infringed upon in any way. But also, what I can't guarantee is that if you publish a story, somebody wouldn't react to the story. The Mayor (Jefferson Koijee) launched a program, 'Weah for Clean City,' FrontPage said 'Monrovia Stings.' Didn't the Mayor too have a right to respond and defend his program? That's the same democracy. The same right you have as a journalist to publish your view, to take a policy position and to take an editorial stance, so also do the public officials have to respond. How is that a violation of a press freedom," he asked rhetorically.
Mr. Sieh has stated that he is being threatened by supporters of the President, including government officials, in the local media and on social media including Facebook.