LIBERIA: Leaders Who Advocate ‘Patriotic’ Journalism End up Like Zuma, Others
All my life and studies I never came across the term Patriotic journalism until quite recently. Perhaps my professors in college skipped the pages that mentioned the term or just simply didn’t give a damn. In the previous administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf I was accused a lot about not being more patriotic to the land of my birth.
Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
The closest I recall of the debate is where journalists draw the line during coverage of conflicts related to the coverage of wars and terrorist attacks. In those circumstances, the countries on the attack in some cases, rely on the media to take a spin in the country’s interest.
I never rarely recall a professor telling me this applies to protecting the corrupt or shying away from coverage of certain issues to guard the transition of a new government. Nowadays, the term appears to be misused by a lot of people for their own interests and intentions.
For every time one of our articles brought down a government official, led to their dismissal or an investigation into their allegations of corruption, labels of blackmail, extortionist and criminal followed – and I have become accustomed to that. A thick skin will get you far in life, my late Uncle Albert Porte once told me.
In my line of work, exposing corrupt government officials has landed me in a lot of trouble and those always on the wrong side of the aisle have become notorious for singing praises and hovering their sycophantic tendencies over the President of the day.
Former South African President Jacob Zuma was a big fan of patriotic journalism. In fact, while he was in power he often chastised journalist for not being more patriotic to their country. “Journalists should put the country first while at the same time report in a balanced and fair manner, the former South African President said back in October 2010 while addressing Tshwane University of Technology journalism students.
Planting Seeds of ‘Patriotism’
One could say it was the South African President’s plan to brainwash the profession’s future by instilling in them his definition of the modern-day patriots. “The coverage of news in a more patriotic manner does not mean that journalists should not report in an objective and balanced manner,” Zuma averred. “It means ensuring balance and fairness and putting the country first before any other consideration.”
Zuma did add that Patriotic reporting did not mean that journalists should not expose corruption. “Covering stories exposing corruption for example, in a balanced and fair manner, could also count as patriotism,” Mr. Zuma said.
Perhaps if Mr. Zuma had listened more to the so-called “unpatriotic” journalists, he would not have had the embarrassment of sitting in a Durban court Friday facing multiple corruption charges relating to a billion-dollar arms deal in the late 1990s.
The former President is charged with 16 counts of corruption, money laundering and racketeering, stemming from the billion-dollar government arms deal. He is accused of receiving 783 questionable payments in connection with the deal.
Although Mr. Zuma, has been hoping for his day in court, his appearance is just one of many former leaders facing corruption after leaving office.
On the same day, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former President of Brazil was expected to begin serving a 12-year prison sentence for bribery.
In South Korea, a court found former President Park Geun-hye on multiple counts of abuse of power, bribery and coercion and sentenced her to 24 years in prison.
In 2009, Frederick Chiluba, the former President of Zambia faced accusations of “plundering the national economy” during his decade-long rule in the southern African state. Although he was later acquitted, he lost a civil court case that found he laundered around $50m (£30m) from his impoverished people to help fund lavish spending on designer clothes and shoes.
In Liberia, where former President Charles Taylor is currently facing a 50-year sentence for war crimes committed in neighboring Sierra Leone, its most recent President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is facing some old demons of her own.
The Federal District Court of Boston in Boston, Massachusetts, USA recently issued summons in the civil lawsuit against Sirleaf, described as an International Fundraiser for the National Patriotic Front, (NPFL) and former President of the Republic of Liberia, former President Charles G. Taylor, NPFL and others.
The Court has also summoned Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, former defense Minister, NPFL, the current President George M. Weah, and The United States Navy, (Honorable Richard V. Spencer, as Secretary of the United States Navy). The suit is seeking justice for some 250, 000 people killed in Liberia’s 14 years civil war which officially ended in 2003.
Issues Never Die
In the midst of it all, in the last 24 hours our newspaper have come under attack once again from certain corners of the powers that be suggesting that we are not patriotic to country because we only report what they perceive as negative stories about the new President George Manneh Weah.
Sadly, no one has questioned the authenticity of what we have published but the main complaint has been that it is either too early to criticize or we should be more patriotic to the country and leave the new government alone.
What we have been reporting in recent weeks is no different from what we have been reporting before – corruption, the environment, press and human rights issues. From the President constructing a dream house off the Robertsfield Highway, breaking down his property on 9th Street Sinkor to reportedly constructing a hotel and the renovation of his Jamaica resort – all less than four months after taking office. All these have rattled wandering minds to ponder and raise questions about when the President and his officials would declare their assets?
In addition, we have also raised environmental issues about the President’s choice of the wetland-declared Bali Island for the construction of a conference center, which will be named Mahatma Ghandi Conference Center, will be funded by the Government of India with a 4000-seated capacity. The Bali Island, the area adjacent Providence Island designated the President’s “new city” has been designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. As the heart of the Mesurado Wetlands, the island is one of five areas in Liberia under the Ramsar Convention that the GOL received funding for to protect.
Quite recently, we have also raised issues regarding a reported US$536 million plan by the government to finance construction of the Southeast road. The loan from the Singaporean financing firm Eton finance private limited, is aimed at bringing paved roads to the southeast. However, many financial analysts say, the loan could leave a debt burden on Liberia, in breach of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) article IV and if not properly used for the intended purpose could sink Weah’s presidency and leave Liberians holding once again an empty bag.
A visiting IMF delegation to Liberia recently cautioned: “Debt levels have been rising steadily in recent years. While the risk of debt distress remains moderate, borrowing space has clearly been reduced over time. Looking forward, future obligations will need to be undertaken with caution, specifically with respect to securing favorable terms and conditions.”
Despite those concerns, the Executive Mansion through Presidential Press Secretary Sam Mannah told OK FM this week that the US$536 million loan agreement signed in Hong Kong by the Government of Liberia is not in violation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) regulation as being reported in some quarters.
Bearing the cross; Embracing Threats
Mr. Mannah’s denial comes despite the fact that the government is yet to make the MOU signed in Hong Kong public, meaning the Liberian people have no idea what its government signed on the dotted line or what in fact, it will be giving up in exchange.
It is such questions that we have sought to ask that have drawn attacks, some personal from the CDC-led government in recent days. Mr. Weah’s supporters have amped up their threats with the Deputy Minister of Information suggesting to Capitol FM Breakfast show Friday that the statements uttered by Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee was a personal issue between he and the FPA editor.
Mr. Koijee’s utterances have been followed by similar rhetoric on fake profiles created on Facebook and Whazzup bearing my photographs with hate messages against the President of Liberia. Another one created on insinuating a conversation with former Finance and Economic Planning Minister Amara Konneh suggesting a solicitation for me to serve as an opposition to the current government.
We live sadly, in a time when our current leaders have quickly forgotten how those before them came to their demise and how quickly a rise to power can come crashing down. The leaders always get the blame while the sycophants and praise singers live to sing another tune to their successors.
One poster went as far as to write: “Rodney is bearing his own cross. Too much digging makes one own grave.”
Perhaps it’s just a euphemism, a colleague suggested. Another said it may simply be a vile threat to be taken seriously.
Regardless of whatever it is, it appears once again, the new powers that be have taken the mantra from the old with a familiar refrain that our newspaper is unpatriotic because we have not joined the band of sycophantic praise singers using their attacks on us to raise their profiles for jobs in the government.
Such are the times we live in when the boundaries of our profession have sadly boiled down to us either being “patriotic” or “unpatriotic”.
This reminds me of a February 2013 incident when Zimbabwean freelance journalist, Nkosana Moyo, was escorted by the Central Intelligence Organisation from State House when he tried to record the proceedings of a meeting between President Robert Mugabe and a United States congressional delegation and given a 30-minute lecture about patriotism. Mugabe was meeting Congressmen Gregory Meeks, Melvin Watt, Jack Kingston, and Bob Goodlatte.
Moyo, a correspondent for the Zimbabwe Times at the time, later told a United States embassy official: “They told me I should not be used by the Americans to demonise Zimbabwe, and took all my details- address, phone numbers, next of kin, rural home- and let me go.”
Today, Moyo is still practicing his profession and Mugabe, who during the height of his reign never imagined that he would lose his grip on power, has sailed into the sunset, forced out of power after his number was up.
In Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves, years of chronic corruption, and lingering impunity has confined a nation’s brains into being content with mediocrity. So much so that we allow ourselves to accept wrongs and promote it even when it is to our own detriment.
We live sadly, in a time when our current leaders have quickly forgotten how those before them came to their demise and how quickly a rise to power can come crashing down. The leaders always get the blame while the sycophants and praise singers live to sing another tune to the successors.
We have seen it all before. From Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, and of late Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. They greet you with praises and sting you with insults when your time is about to expire.
If memories serve the current leader right, he should remember what happened after we lost that game against the Black Star’s of Ghana that could have taken us to the 2002 World Cup in Tokyo and Japan.
This is why I believe that if we fail to change our mindset about the way we look at ourselves today, we may never find an answer to why so many of our people continue to linger in abject poverty.
Journalists before me have survived worst than what is currently unfolding.
So, I’ll be fine. I fear no one but God and know deep down in my heart, that contrary to what some detractors believe, I bleed red, white and blue with a star in the left-hand corner.
I have as much right to Liberia and its stake than anyone alive today. Liberia belongs to all of us. This is why I have dedicated my life and my work to ensure that we keep a check and balance on those at the helm of power, no matter who’s at the top.
The fact of the matter is, I’d rather die an unpatriotic journalist than a praise-singing, sycophantic and patriotic one.
Have a Blessed Weekend!!!