It is a disservice and betrayal of the public trust when journalists abandon their constitutional and traditional role to make much-ado about less significant matters. The sole purpose of journalism is to serve society and its people.
The Independent press is widely considered the lifeline of democracy due to its vital role in the provision of reliable and accurate information to the public. Both emerging and established democracies have been providing safeguards for the journalism profession in the practice of its watchdog role, which requires monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the activities of government and holding it accountable for the management of public resources.
Rather than focus on telling the life story of people at the margins of society and digging for news that provides answers to problem facing humanity, journalists in this country concentrate more on attending conferences/workshops to capture irrelevant issue and present it as news.
As if this pattern is not appalling, reporters and editors nowadays want to be the newsmaker, appearing on the front pages of the papers.
Our founding fathers did not provide for freedom of expression and independence of the mass media for journalists and media owners to focus more on making money, seeking selfish interest or to casually cover stories that do not advance the development of the nation-state Liberia.
Liberia, like the United States of America provides for protection of the free press in its constitution (Article 15) although for vast portion of its existence, journalists and activists have been victims of state sponsored crimes.
It is however unfair to conclude and make the case that the George Weah administration that has been in office for less than four months has created a dark cloud in Liberia that does not guarantee the safety and security of journalists.
There is no evidence of regime-sponsored attack on any journalist and media house. Weah as politician and celebrity has been and is on the receiving end of stemming criticism than any politician in Liberia compared. But there is no record to show that he has sued journalist and engineered reprisal attack.
What we have been witnessing in recent weeks is a combination of misconception of statecraft, governance, the role of the media and intolerance on all sides. If the media demands tolerance it must be tolerant. That is, people that are the subject of our reports must be given the opportunity to reply and when they do we should not say they have attacked us, once such right is void of physical harm and implicit and explicit harassment.
Beyond that, the real threat to the media is the professional conduct of its practitioners. The Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe in July 2015 forecast that the prevailing poor journalism quality in the country would lead to activists and journalist losing the battle for press freedom.
Addressing the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Annual Award Dinner in Paynesville City, the revered Human rights lawyer said the emergence of mercenary journalism, wherein journalists are hired to write unethical stories about rival political opponents and business partners is the new risk threatening the existence of the free press in Liberia.
“I must say that if much effort is not made by members of the Press Union to improve the quality of journalism in Liberia, those of us who have even put our legal profession at the disposal of many journalists over the years, as a demonstration of our support for press freedom, may lose the battle for press freedom. Members of the Press Union must not let this happen,” Gongloe who has the reputation of providing pro bono legal services for journalists said.
He explained that journalism will be harmful if it produces untrue stories leading to lack of public trust and confidence.
We agree with the lawyer then and now and urge the leadership of the Press Union to take the lead on peer review processes that will safe the profession and maintain the reputation of the fourth estate.