President Weah Did No Wrong to Name Liberia’s COVID-19 Index Patient

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Normally, a legitimate public interest in a subject matter or the people involved will outweigh any embarrassment to the one named. FrontPage Africa’s March 18, 2020 Editorial, titled: Calling the Names of Those Coming Down with COVID-19 Is Wrong; Stop the Stigma, Mr. President, Min. Nagbe & NPHIL, for most part, indicated that President Weah made a “fatal mistake” to have named Mr. Nathaniel Blama, Head of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Liberia’s index case of COVID-19.

Jeremiah Samuel- Dugbo, Contributing Writer

FPA Editorial board further argued that the president’s pronouncement tend to stigmatize the victim. To these I ask whether the subject matter and the person involved are of legitimate public concern? The obvious answer is YES.

Even before the pronouncement of COVID-19 entry to our country, it was already declared by the World Health Organization as a pandemic- such declaration justifies that the matter was of legitimate public concern.

In the sense of serving an appropriate news function, the disclosure of the name contributed constructively to the impact of the report. It offered personalized frame of reference to which the audience or citizenry could relate, fostering perception and understanding.

Further,publishing and/or broadcasting the name of a victim of COVID-19 adds credibility to the report, makes the report more meaningful to listeners/ and or viewers. Moreover, it lent specificity and credibility to the report. In this way the disclosure served as an effective means of accomplishing the intended news function- believability.

Additionally, at a time when it was important to separate fact from rumor, the specificity of the report would strengthen the accuracy of the public perception of the merits of COVID-19 outbreak.

Statistics have shown that vast majority of our population are illiterate; as such, there is a looming tendency, if not already a tendency of gullibility. This assertion is backed by our society’s initial reaction to the EBOLA virus disease (EVD) in 2014- majority of our people held the view, at the inception of the virus, that EVD was unreal.

The Editorial board claimed it is unprecedented because, it says, no healthcare delivery institution or person does what our President, Mr. George Manneh Weah, Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) began doing to those who have been confirmed with COVID_19.  

I wonder how did we get to know of the Iranian government officials that contracted the virus? How about, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, 1st lady of Canada and widely known athletes and so on?

FPA editorial board further argued, blaming the president for the wave of insults and condemnations on social media and local radio stations directed to Mr. Blama. Whilst I don’t support throwing insults at public officials, the condemnations and insults directed at Mr. Blama are immaterial.

When public officials like Mr. Nathaniel Blama take a government post, they must expect that their work/ activities will be closely scrutinized and even criticized by people they serve. Public officials bear a higher public scrutiny.

Public interest trumps offensiveness. Legitimate public concern, like details of an index case of COVID-19, should outweigh whatever degree of embarrassment a victim of such suffered. Hence, it was no mistake to make known the identity of the victim from whom, our index case was established.

Jeremiah Samuel- Dugbo, I is the Vice President of the Law Student Association at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia. Email: [email protected]/ [email protected]

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