…A Wakeup Call to Journalists
By: Bill K. Jarkloh
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Many a time, it is sad when people who should be appreciative are whimsically critical of gestures that are meant for their own development and the enhancement of their professional goals, especially for the benefit of those in professional domains such as journalism. This has been the situation with some Liberian journalists who have failed to rally any support for or make any donation to the umbrella organization of Liberian journalists, but have instead stood by to criticize development initiatives.
Typical of such people are two former officials of the Press Union who are barking at a US$1000 assistance given by President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to help support the construction project of the Press Union of Liberia’s (PUL) Headquarters. The two journalists, Isaac Bantu and Emmanuel Abalo considered as “poor judgment” on the part of the Barpeen Administration, the request to Madam for assistance and the acceptance of the amount donate to the union in response to the Barpeen Administration’s request.
Messrs Bantu and Abalo uniquely served the Union’s leadership, but abandoned the Union in rented buildings without any traced of any form of assistance to the union. They don not care about the plight of the Union in rented buildings, not to mention making a contribution towards rescuing the PUL out of its dilemma. All they and their-likes know is to distance themselves from the Press Union’s development and to criticize genuine efforts towards the union’s upliftment. Certainly, it is woeful of the journalist’s criticisms, especially ones from Abalo and Bantu, whose traces of development of the union during their tenures of office are nowhere to be seen.
Instead of rallying support for the Union to move out of rented buildings while the sit at the United States, they have probably forgotten that the PUL’s extant development needs back home – doing nothing to rally support for its projects – the Headquarters Project in particular - which it is no doubt they know about. They forget their obligation to helping the union grow - to be on par with equal umbrella groups in other countries; they rather vaguely say the PUL’s administration of George Barpeen was being awarded for by President Sirleaf with the US$100,000 without stating what they leadership is awarded for. Maybe they need to be told that an award is a prize, a decoration or medal that is won for some good performance or works. If by this definitions they mention award of the PUL by President Sirleaf, then what have the PUL done that warrant the award; better still, why do they have problem with good performance of the PUL?.
Their blind criticisms started after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf responded to an appeal for assistance for a project to construct a headquarters for the Press Union of Liberia. The appeal was made by the Union’s President George Barpeen and his team of officers and the US$100,000 donation was in response to the PUL’s appeal and not an award, a prize or an honor.
If the donation at all should be an award, which of course it is not, then it would reasonably be an award celebrating professionalism demonstrated by members of the Press Union in the development of Liberia’s emerging democracy. Making the donation through Acting Information Minister Cletus Sieh, I recall that President Sirleaf did not call for any media favor for personal political enhancement. She simply acknowledged the contribution of journalists to the development of democracy in the country. In fact, Madam Sirleaf herself, making good the US$100,000 assistance towards the PUL Construction Project, she dispelled public impression that the gesture was intended to influence the reportage of the media. The President said the gesture was made out of her desire to put the PUL on par with other equal umbrella groupings of media in other countries in West Africa and elsewhere. She further disclosed that she solicited the funds from her friends out of her desire to see a modern facility erected for the PUL as it is in other countries in the sub-region.
In the first place, the critics need to be reminded one thing – that Madam Sirleaf as a Liberian and democratic minded person has been a major contributor to the welfare and growth of Liberian journalism and journalists. The madam has been contributing to the media even before she could become President and no one complains. Not even the critics who are themselves journalists have made any such contribution to the media or the welfare of its personnel. For instance, Madam Sirleaf, when she was not yet the President of Liberia, raised US$56,000 for more than war affected journalists in 2003 when brother Abalo, Bantu and others of their likes were enjoying themselves in the United States, viewing the serious nightmare that was victimizing every Liberian at home including their colleagues – journalists – on the television screen just as they were watching movie shows.
Madam Sirleaf again was the only Liberian social worker, who was swift in ensuring that Comrade Throuble Suah was saved from death when Taylor’s draconian Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) flogged him severely, made him almost blind and broke his spinal cord. It was through Madam Sirleaf the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) gave its support to the brother to save him from perishing when the critics only listened and did nothing. Thirdly, Madam Sirleaf was the one who hosted Liberian media executives during the Accra Peace Accord in Ghana which brought about the end of the war. Through Madam Sirleaf, each of them received US$500 while Mr. Abalo and Bantu were sitting on the fence. This goes to say that Madam Sirleaf would still use her influence to help the PUL with the construction, even if she was not at the echelon of national leadership, provided that she’s approached.
As far as media support is concerned in Liberia, the madam is the most selfless politician and social worker ever seen media friendly in Liberia. But most often the media hit at her administration objectively. I recall, just as you readers may, that President Sirleaf chided the press and was some how sarcastic when she addressed some groups, but her statement was not taken kindly, and the media gave her the appropriate backlash that such utterances deserves. And considering the weight of her statement she conceded, regretted and conform as a good and dynamic leader could normally do; and she did not behave like one who would be throwing practitioners into the dungeons for their media output.
This is why I consider as a shame, such comments coming from our past leaders, Messrs Abalo and Bantu, and their cronies. I thought they should be gladdened by any genuine gesture and applaud any gift from philanthropists, goodwill and media friendly people and countries t6owardssuch a worthy project. What PUL needs most now is contributions towards implementation PUL’s Headquarters project that could boost Liberian journalism to a contemporary global standard. Instead of rallying some money and material resources in the United States just as Madam Sirleaf is doing, the critics chose to spread on the internet empty and shameless criticisms that are unimaginable of past leaders and members of an organization or institution.
On the Abalo-Bantu claim that they have made sacrifices prior to the Barpeen Administration in upholding the highest principles of propriety, may they state the sacrifice they’ve made that is greater in contemporary global and modern journalism than the PUL erecting of its own Headquarter complex with every modern research facilities as an umbrella group. In fact, what have they done towards achieving PUL independence when it comes to living on its own without being bothered by landlords? Anyway, I am really moved to salute Mr. Barpeen for the courage and bold initiative that to which the President positively responded. I feel strongly that comrade Barpeen does not deserve the criticisms being heaped at him for rallying support for the implementation of the PUL Headquarter project. Instead of the empty and vague criticisms, members and past leaders should begin to put in place initiatives that would contribute to this worthy venture and other programs and projects geared towards the development of Liberian journalist and the media in this country. This advice especially goes to Mr. Abalo and Mr. Bantu who have immensely benefited from.
To conclude, detracting good and genuine efforts is not the journalism that we as practitioners should engage. What rather should be our professional focus should be promoting growth and development of every sector of the media in particular and the society in general. I agree with the PUL leadership that the US$100,000 contribution of Madam Sirleaf is in no way a bribe. The critics should be informed that President John Kuffour of Ghana contributed to the building of the Press Center of the Ghanaian Association of Journalists but the journalists of Ghana did not considers the gesture of the Ghanaian President ‘soli’ or bribe. The Foreign Press Center of Washington DC would not have been built without contributions from other sources other than American journalists etc. If making a contribution to journalists’ growth and welfare should be considered a bribe, then it is obvious that journalists themselves and the media will be in isolation. This is because the rationality forbidding gifts or bribe is not to influence news. So if this is true, then it is hypothetical that that any other institution, including the NED – the National Endowment for Democracy - which is sponsoring the PUL should not because by doing so could be interpreted buying some favor with Liberia journalists. Let us agree that the government and President owes the PUL protection and growth and a Liberian institution, so assisting in building the Headquarters is in no way a professional folly. That is, Madam Sirleaf is the national leader; if in her drive to build and nurture democracy, she decides to help build the capacity of a democratic institutions like the PUL or any civil society organization, it should not be ground for criticisms, especially so when she holds every sector of the society – including the media the opportunity of protection and growth. Besides, how comprehensible it is for one to believe that the PUL, which does not operate the individual media institutions, will control media content in favor of Madam Sirleaf because of assistance toward a construction project.
Criticisms by those against the just and genuine assistance of the President to the PUL are not insult only to the PUL alone, they are insults the conscience of various media executives and owners. For the PUL to just get up, walk into their offices, use their seats as stools and dictate to them to go unprofessional in favor of Madam Sirleaf is incomprehensible and technically insults to a professional standard of every journalist in Liberian and media institutions as well who are associating with the union. For me, I take such criticisms as a high degree of absurdity. Indeed, it doesn’t make sense for one to insinuate that PUL is able to dictate media contents because of a US$100,000 contribution by the President to headquarter project of the umbrella group. This means that critics who are particularly journalists must be more positive rather than detracting genuine efforts and by that insulting the professional integrity of their colleagues. While every journalist is aspired to college education and further advancement, professional development would even manifested more by modernizing contemporary practice in our beloved Liberia to global standard; and such can obtain not only by the college education we are all aspired to and are achieving, but also by the availability of modern facilities such as the ones the PUL’s Headquarters would offer Liberian journalists if completed.