Sunday, October 12, 2008

Be Positve & Not Negative of Genuine Efforts

…A Wakeup Call to Journalists
By: Bill K. Jarkloh

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.

No Motive Attached To US$100, 000 Gesture

…Pres. Sirleaf Clarifies ‘Gift’
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has clarified that there is no motive attached to the US$100,000 assistance given by her to the Press Union of Liberia. The President recently dispelled public criticism that her gesture was intended to influence the reportage of the media; but she instead 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
The President told the Union that she generated the funds donate to the PUL from friends and has placed the money into a special account at the International Bank in the name of the Press Union of Liberia, a PUL release said. The release, signed by the Union’s Secretary General Peter Quaqua, said the President made the clarifications when she made the presentation of the US$100,000 deposit slip as her assistance to the Construction project of the PUL at a brief ceremony attended by an eleven-member Executive Committee at the President’s Foreign Ministry office.
PUL quoted the President as saying that she made the appeal for the money to friends because she did not have any allocation for such amount in the budget. President Sirleaf said while she anticipates additional donations from outside sources, her government was contemplating including the media in the next national budget.
Receiving the deposit slip of US$100,000, PUL President George Barpeen expressed gratitude to Madam Sirleaf for the money and added that it was a manifestation of her government to develop the media. While describing the gesture as magnanimous, Mr. Barpeen assured the President that the donation will be used for the intended purpose.
Meanwhile, there have been massive criticisms of the president’s gesture to the PUL. Two former PUL Officials and another journalist, Charles Nance along with a group of student calling itself Students’ Intellectual Committee have barked at the US$1000 Assistance from President as “poor judgment’ on the part of the Barpeen Administration and the biggest “kato” ever. Kato is the Liberian name of the brown envelope prohibited by mass ethics of journalism.
In their criticisms, Isaac Bantu and Emmanuel Abalo, former Presidents of the Union have served notice distancing themselves from the soliciting and subsequent accepting of the amount from the Unity Party-led Government of Liberia. Both men said it is ‘monetary award’ toward, but the fall short of stating what they were Barpeen Administration of the PUL was being awarded for.
Although the two former officials, currently residing in the United States could not back their criticism with financial or material contributions that would enhanced the Headquarter project of the need-stricken PUL, they view the acceptance of assistance from the President as “an exercise of poor judgment and a grave compromise of the stated goals of the Union - to remain a watchdog and conscience of the Liberian society.”
Bantu and Abalo said the position of the PUL President Mr. George Barpeen that "this will in no way deter the Union from upholding its social responsibility" is highly questionable and presents a major challenge to the image and perception of the Union locally and internationally. Prior administrations of the PUL, Bantu and Abalo indicated, have always made the effort and sacrifice of upholding the highest principles of propriety.
They said the Press Union of Liberia has some of the best trained media personnel and we encourage the Union to exploit the talents of these individuals and undertake a well organized and long range platform aimed at raising the needed funds in a dignified manner for the completion of the Union's headquarters. Considering that the two are some of the best trained guys, Bantu and Abalo fall short of stating their contribution to the noble objective of removing the PUL from rented buildings.
On the other hand, they said “we encourage the Union to maintain a constructive engagement with the Government and all stakeholders in Liberia in upholding the God-given and constitutional right of freedom of speech and press freedom without fear or favor,” not saying how constructive a hostile PUL that will refuse a national donation would be.
However, PUL President George Barpeen has continued to say that receiving an assistance requested for will in no blind individual media institutions and their diverse patterns of thoughts on national issues.
Appearing on a talkshow of the Love TV recently Mr. Barpeen replied critics when ha said though plans are being finalized to receive the donation from the Liberian President, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf later this week, this will in no way deter the Union from upholding its social responsibility. “We will remain resolute in exposing the ills in society that tend to undermine freedom of expression and corruption in Liberia.”
Mr. Barpeen said the US$100,000 assistance to the union was a request made to the President to help financially to complete the construction of the PUL’s headquarters. Mr. Barpeen heard on the LOVE TV during a talkshow said the President and government owes every Liberian institution a responsibility to develop, and added that PUL request and the gesture by the President to positively response was in no way an error or an ethical transgression.
The PUL’s three-storey complex for which it made the request to the President costs an estimated US$375,000. If it is completed, it will contain offices, guest rooms, internet cafĂ©, an auditorium, amongst others features.
“The fear that some of us continue to have is that one day our major grantor, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), would say enough is enough. You are the oldest grantee by now you should be able to crawl and do things on your own. What if such a decision is taken? Would we move around here with our documents in brief cases? We say no. So there’s a need to exert all efforts so that we can have a home for Liberian journalists,” Mr. Barpeen defended the Union.
During the celebration of PUL’s 44 anniversary, Deputy Information Minister Cletus Sieh announced a financial contribution of US$100,000 to assist the PUL in its construction of a Union’s headquarters. He recounted the role the media continues to play in the country’s fledging democracy.
He pledged government’s support in what he described as forever marriage between the media and government. However, the Union has come under sharp criticism, including from practicing journalists about the union’s independence in their reportorial duties if it accepts the Liberian president’s gesture. The Press Union has been grappling with the construction of its own headquarters building on 14th Street in Sinkor which began during the administration of Mr. Abraham Massaley.
He said rather than complain about the donation, Union members and others should rather be concerned about the utilization of the funds and how it will be managed for the desired purpose. “This is not a gift, rather this something that we begged the government for,” he said.
Barpeen questioned the rational of declining the offer. “In Cote d’Ivoire, the building that the Union is using and hosting the press center was bought and donated by the Robert Guei Government. That government has expired and the Union lives on. Likewise in Ghana, the same happened to the press union there where the government assisted the association; even the International Press Center based in Washington, D.C. Journalists could not have been built all by journalists themselves. They have to solicit the support of others,” he reacted to his critics.
He noted that the appeal for assistance to build a Union headquarters first began last year when media executives met with the president following one of her press conferences. “We beg the government to help us with our headquarters project,” he said; adding, “the second time we met with her this year, we reiterated our appeal. She consented to assist the Union, but requested to take a look at the building plan and the budget.
Already four years ago, during the administration of his predecessor, Mrs. Elizabeth Hoff, in whose administration Barpeen served as Vice President, they spent US$15,000 to construct the foundation for the Union’s headquarters which was completed. In addition, they made an estimated 3,000 blocks to begin the project before it reached a standstill, Barpeen disclosed.