A Patriot’s Diary With Ekena Wesley
If only the Liberian media would have an appreciation of the powerful realm they occupy in society, the resolve to effectively exert themselves amid the truism of nation-building would be a foregone conclusion. The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), held its 8th Convention from September 29 – October 1, 2022, in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. The trappings of democracy, freedom, liberty, and justice are the cornerstones of the new world order for participatory governance. Liberians have been on the road to a priceless strive for democracy. All of this could not have happened without the pivotal role of the media. This is not about preaching to the choir.
We have witnessed turbulent moments. We vigorously braved torrential winds and violent storms in our quest to arrive at what is now a nascent democracy in the small West African nation. Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods was invited to be the keynote Speaker at this year’s ALJA event in Worcester. He told journalists: “We have all endured threats, exiles, imprisonments, tortures, deprivations in advancing the promotion and protection of human rights as guaranteed by our constitution.”
Atty. Woods paid a humbled tribute to the iconic journalist and publisher, Philip N. Wesseh of the Inquirer Newspaper the media recently lost to the inevitable. Woods described Philip Wesseh as a “good man, a gentle soul, a humble patriot, a soldier, crusader, and protector of the pen.” He acknowledged: “The tales of their gallantry, raging bravado, and fierce crusades for press freedom and the right to freedom of expression will be recounted by generations of journalists and Liberians yet unborn. They helped prepare an army that will crush any dictator rearing heads in Liberia and insanely entertaining the thought that the press would return to the dark days of Liberia’s past.” LIBERIA WILL NEVER BE THE SAME WHEN THE PEN WAS INTIMIDATED AND MUZZLED!!!
Historically, Atty. Woods, told ALJA members: “The characterization of the media as the Fourth Estate or fourth power refers to the “press and news media both in the explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame issues” in society. It derived from the three estates as expatiated in traditional European concepts: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. In democratic governance and state evolution, these three estates are portrayed by the separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches.”
Drawing an inference from the Victorian Writer, Thomas Carlyle, the human rights lawyer said Carlyle saw the press as a “watchdog” of the British constitution and therefore the guardrail of democracy. As we now know, the “Fourth Estate,” was and still is as influential as any of the branches of government. For the press, the role is more of the impartial referee – the moral guarantor of how best the branches of government and society must function for the public good.”
“I suspect that the theme of the conference presupposes that the 2023 general elections, after having had (in 2017) a peaceful democratic transition of power since 1944 must, given this background, be a test of the integrity of whatever democratic credentials we may have acquired since 2006,” Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods II averred. Woods thinks the media in Liberia, may therefore be seen as a fulcrum of a sustainable democratic culture in the country generally and, key in upholding the integrity of the 2023 general elections.
Atty. Woods furthered: “Judging by American anthropologist Svend Holsoe’s Liberian newspaper collection housed at Indiana University, the earliest we heard of a newspaper was 1830 when the Liberia Herald newspaper was published – contemporary of those in Britain that Carlyle had observed. Many more have been published over nearly two centuries since then. Carl Burrows notes that Hilary Teage, a journalist was one of the most influential and credited with introducing the idea of a Commonwealth Government to encompass the autonomous colonies.”
According to Atty. Kofi Woods. since its humble beginning, the media in Liberia has had a front view to witness and feel the impact of the unfolding political and democratic culture in the country. He dissected: “The struggle between the independent media and the state in Liberia in terms of freedom, power, and control will continue to measure the contributions of the media in sustaining democracy in Liberia in the past, today, and the future.”
However, Atty. Woods chronicled that this fight was especially pronounced during the contemporary period involving the Presidency of Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Taylor, Ellen, and now Weah. The acclaimed human rights advocate observed that while gains have increased since 2006 with the signing of the Table Mountain Declaration in 2012 and the Abdullah Kamara Act, which sought to decriminalize free speech, the tactics of the state – and its collaborators – as an agency in this struggle has not changed. Notwithstanding, Atty Woods has lamented the experiences of PUNCH FM and ROOTS FM presents ample evidence.
Woods disappointingly reckoned state control of the means and tools of communication including licensing; the censure of private owned printing houses, libel laws, incarceration of journalists, establishing selective and government-sponsored media outlets, deliberately suffocating and refusing to pay the debts owed media institutions and many more actions to restrict press freedom persists.