Liberia: President Weah Putting Media Practitioners at Risk with unproven Utterances

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THE GEORGE WEAH-LED government in Liberia continues to put the lives of journalists at risks with unproven utterances.

JUST A DAY AFTER United States President Donald Trump declared that one of the great achievements as president is lowering the media’s favourability among Americans, Liberian President George Manneh Weah has joined the fray, declaring to Executive Mansion reporters Thursday upon his return from France that Liberia’s safety requires the evaluation of what he calls fake news that goes out to the public.

THE LIBERIAN PRESIDENT, without mentioning names or instances of his assertions,  said some journalists for whatever reason are sending hate messages that could destroy the nation as he stressed the need to filter and counteract fake news, which he says is counterproductive to the development of any nation. President Weah averred that Liberia’s safety requires the evaluation of fake news that goes out to the public.

US PRESIDENT TRUMP is currently engulfed in a major lawsuit after being sued by the Cable News Network, CNN which is suing the Trump administration in a bid to restore the press coverage of its White House Correspondent Jim Acosta.

THE US PRESIDENT RECENTLY TWEETED: “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.”

IN AN INTERVIEW WITH the Daily Caller Wednesday, President Trump said he believes Americans are starting to see many media outlets — like CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC — as “fake news.”

PRESIDENT WEAH’S DECISION to follow the line of the US President speaks volume at a time when media institutions across the world are facing mounting restrictions and intimidations in pursuit of the truth and in the line of their work.

JUST LAST WEEK, authorities in Tanzania arrested and seized the passports of Angela Quintal, Africa program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative.

RECENTLY, SAUDI ARABIA came under attack following the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and U.S. resident, was allegedly killed last month at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

MR. TRUMP has had a  long and contentious relationship with media, often labeling press coverage he does not like as “fake news.”

IN THE SAME VEIN, President Weah pointed out that the country’s safety requires the evaluation of “fake” news – without offering any explanation about what he meant or which media house was reporting fake news.

THE PRESIDENT, IT CAN be recalled made similar accusations against journalist Jonathan Pay Layleh, the BBC correspondent in Liberia  when he accused the journalist in March of undermining him during the height of the civil war when the President was advocating for peace and disarmament.

MR. PAY LAYLEH HAD asked the President a question about the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia during the visit of UN deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.

AT THE TIME, President Weah failed to offer proof of his assertions but his information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe stepped up the debate a notch when he said that the President was right in accusing the BBC correspondent because he(Pay 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 without offering proof.

WE FIND IT TROUBLING that President Weah routinely launches verbal assaults and accusations on journalists without offering any evidence whatsoever.

WE ARE ALSO unsure what the President refers to as “fake news”.

WHAT THE MEDIA have done in the past few months, since President Weah took office is report on a number of early missteps, conflict of interest and numerous private constructions undertaken by the President in only his first year in office.

THE MEDIA HAVE ALSO BEEN on the heels of the government to explain what happened to some LD16 billion dollars from containers from the port as well as US$25 million dollar the President said was infused in the economy to mop up the excess liquidity of Liberian dollars.

WHILE WE ARE NOT SURE whether these are some of the many stories the President is referencing, we do wish to remind the President that the media is simply doing his job and no amount of labels as “fake news” will stop journalists and media practitioners from exposing the truths or getting to the bottom of what happened to the Liberian people’s money.

WHEN THE MEDIA raise issues of conflict of interest issues regarding the President’s continued use of a plane from his businessman’s friend, Mahamadou Gonkougou, the President and CEO of the Burkina Faso-based construction company Ebomaf, the President and his aides are quick to become defensive even though they took the former administration to task on multiple occasions for similar practices.

THE PRESIDENT’S UTTERANCES ARE borderline irresponsible and does nothing but give his sycophantic band of followers ammunition to launch verbal and physical assaults on the press.

WHAT PRESIDENT WEAH should be concern about is the lack of coherency in the explanation of his officials regarding millions of dollars missing from Liberia’s coffers. The media will continue to investigate and the chips will fall where the may.

No amount of threats and vague utterances will keep the press from reporting and exposing the ills in Liberia and allegations of misuse and abuse of taxpayer’s money.

AT A TIME when many Liberians are living below the poverty line, when banks are unable to dole out cash to consumers and resorting to rationing funds in bits and pieces, when parents are struggling to keep their kids in school, when several businesses are struggling to stay afloat and many Liberians barely making it, President Weah’s focus should be on easing the more pressing issues concerning Liberians and not resorting to labeling investigative reports as fake new and journalists or critics as enemies of the state.

THE BEST President Weah can do is to prevail on members of his government to be more coherent in their explanations and stop confusing the public about what is actually going on.

THE FAKE NEWS LABEL is not working for President Trump and will not work in Liberia. The Committee to Protect Journalists was right when it said recently: “The international community has done little to isolate repressive countries and U.S. President Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric and insistence on labeling critical media ‘fake news’ serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists.”

PRESIDENT WEAH’S decision to follow Mr. Trump in disparaging the media is wrong and points to signs of dictatorships which led to the failure of many rulers who preceded him.

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