EDITORIAL: Low Quality Press Should Not Lead to Low Quality Press Briefing

During my first ever Ministry of Information Weekly Press Conference this past Thursday, I was taken aback by Minister Lewis Brown’s rant that occupied most of the time of the press conference.

In his speech, Brown said an unlicensed newspaper, “consistent with an apparent editorial policy of lies and fabrication,” reported on a transaction during United States President Barack Obama’s meeting with his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari.

Brown was referring to the local daily, Hot Pepper, which reported that the United States government provided a list of “so-called Liberian thieves” and others accused of corruption in Liberia. He quipped about the name of the newspaper, “It’s not hot. That’s a cold pepper. It’s so cold, it’s not funny.”

The minister criticized Hot Pepper’s lack of “desire to be truthful or to verify or to ask the simple journalistic questions.” He continued, “If you challenge us on our record, do so based on the force and power of the available evidence.” Brown challenged the newspaper, “If you will call yourself a journalist, act minimally as one.”

A copy of Hot Pepper, the daily newspaper accused of publishing the unverified news story. Photo: Jefferson Krua

A copy of Hot Pepper, the daily newspaper accused of publishing the unverified news story. Photo: Jefferson Krua

He also read an open letter written by US Ambassador Deborah Malac to the editor of Hot Pepper which criticized the editorial decision to publish the story without reaching out to the US Embassy for comments. In the letter, Malac called the article “shoddy journalism,” a term Brown used throughout his tirade to drive his point.

With all due respect to Brown, while I understand the context of the overall low quality of print media in Liberia, I found his address patronizing and a waste of our collective time. This issue should have simply occupied five or so minutes of his time during the conference, especially when there were more pressing issues at hand – the National Transit Authority bus accident from the day before and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s announcement about the Small Business Administration Bureau that had been recently set up.

To dedicate over 40 minutes to using denigrating language to address the collective press for something that one news outlet did was disrespectful and a waste of our time, especially when Brown himself acknowledged that it was only a minority of the press that carried on these practices.

A more effective strategy would have been to summarize what the issue was, why it was wrong, and let the press know what actions the ministry and other aggrieved parties would take to address the issue. If there were laws broken, would he or the ministry pursue any legal avenues to address it? Did he or the ministry file a complaint to the Press Union of Liberia through the formal channels? What was the response? Brown did not address any of these issues.

In fact, a reporter asked that very question of whether Brown had reported this particular issue to the PUL, which Brown did not answer.

Instead, the minister decided to boast about how the current administration is one of the most open and law-abiding governments Liberia has ever seen, suggesting that we should be grateful to them for not violating our inalienable, God-given rights. This is analogous to someone who you suspect of being an armed robber demanding you thank him for not targeting you.

It is time we change the tone which government officials use to address the Liberian people and the press. Government officials are servants of the people. They are not our lords or masters. As professionals, we do not deserve to be addressed like children under punishment. Perhaps when Brown starts to afford us the respect he desires, he may get some back in return.

Jefferson is a co-founder of The Bush Chicken. He has a Masters in Transportation Infrastructure and Systems Engineering and previously worked for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Washington, DC.

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One Comment;

  1. Torli Krua said:

    Demand An End To Business As Usual: Refuse To Accept The Unacceptable
    Finally, the ‘handwriting is on the wall’! Finally, someone has the nerve to say what everyone in Liberia already knows: ‘ Some acts of Liberian Politicians are intolerable and unacceptable’. Citizens must demand change because the citizens, as masters of the republic deserve better.” Change, however, never comes voluntarily. Change must be demanded to be brought to life. Therefore, to avert more “… patronizing and a waste of our collective time…” as well as waste of taxpayers’ money in the future, I suggest you go the extra mile and send a copy of your article with a cover letter of disapproval to the Honorable Minister. Also request a response otherwise he may never know he works for citizens of Liberia
    Further, in the spirit of public service, please offer to meet with the Honorable Minister. In an impoverished country where, for 168 years, wealthy politicians literally rode on the backs of poor citizens, assigned bodyguards, drivers and outrageous salaries and benefits to themselves, it’s easy for government officials to feel and behave like masters. No wonder, ”…someone who you suspect of being an armed robber demanding you thank him for not targeting you.” Great!
    It’s easy to criticize government but systemic change takes a whole lot more than an article-it takes concerted actions by citizens coming together and demanding change. Everyone in Liberia knows what is wrong but few are willing to take the appropriate actions and demand change. By calling a spade a spade and demanding accountability of government officials who are public servants, Liberian citizens can hasten systemic change in the republic and help create a better quality of life for all citizens.

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