“Critical Question, Critical Answer”

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Pesident Weah (left) said that he has no grudge against Jonathan Paye-Layleh (right) and that the journalist is free to return home from his "vacation"

– President Weah describes his exchange with Jonathan Paye-Layleh

President George Weah on Wednesday held a tête-à-tête with media executives to explore avenues for strengthening partnerships and improving Government’s relationship with the media. The meeting was also intended to dispel public speculations about his alleged personal vendetta against local BBC stringer Jonathan Paye Layleh.

Paye Layleh, who by his own accounts, fled the country out of fears for his safety in the wake of scathing remarks made by President Weah against him, has since written a number of letters to individuals and institutions seeking their intervention to have President Weah provide clarity on statements he made recently charging the journalist for being against him.

The meeting with media executives also came against heightened public concerns about what is seen as an official clampdown on the media in the wake of action taken by 6th Judicial Circuit Judge Gbeisay to shut down the FrontPage Africa and place its staff under arrest.

The Judge took the action following a libel suit filed by members of the late Lawrence Morgan family, seeking punitive damages to the tone of one million five hundred thousand United States dollars. According to members of the Morgan family, the FrontPage Africa newspaper published a paid for public notice warning the public not to do business with Mr. A. AK. Morgan and others claiming to be administrators of the late Lawrence Morgan intestate estate .

But the Publisher of the FrontPage Africa newspaper, Rodney Sieh who, incidentally is out of the country, has said his institution was unfairly targeted because other newspapers including this newspaper had published the same advert but unlike his outfit, the other newspapers were not sued. Mr. Sieh also claimed that although the Morgans had demanded a retraction which had been done yet, his institution was dragged to court, which according to him was politically motivated..

Against claims and counter claims, and apparently driven by concerns of public discontent about a perceived official clampdown on the Press, media executives were on Wednesday invited to a tête-à-tête with President George Weah in an apparent attempt to mend fences with the media.

At their first-ever engagement with President George M. Weah on Wednesday, April 11, media executives went to great lengths to advocate for their fellow journalist, Paye-Layleh, who left the country out of  fear for his life after being singled out earlier by President Weah as “one of those that were against me.” But the President responded with a certain rhetorical precision that sent the room into side-splitting laughter, never mind  the  seriousness of the situation at hand.

After listening to remarks by media executives echoing Paye-Layleh’s safety concerns, President Weah did not retract his statement earlier directed at the journalist. Instead, the President expounded on matters in a bid to justify his remarks about Paye-Layleh.

“He asked me a critical question, and I gave him a critical answer,” President Weah told media executives yesterday, adding that he has documentary evidence to back his statement.

The question asked by Paye-Layleh at a media stakeout on March 22, during the visit of Deputy UN Secretary General Amin Mohammed, echoed a request made by Human Rights Watch to President George Weah “to create the environment so that victims can meet face-to-face with their perpetrators.”

To Paye-Layleh’s question, President Weah responded: “when I was advocating for human rights in the country, you were one of those that were against me. But I always reminded you because what I was doing at that time was for us not to reach to this point where Liberians are not against each other. And I’m glad that you’re here today. This is the time now we have to make sure that we create that environment and create awareness that Liberians will find reason to forgive each other so we can move on.”

Following this exchange, Paye-Layleh wrote separate letters to the President, Vice President and First Lady, expressing his concern about the manner in which the President had singled him out, and that he feared for his life, since he has done nothing to warrant the President’s accusations  about him.

“Because I don’t talk too much to the press does not mean I’m not friendly to the press,” President Weah told media executives on Wednesday. “There is a case study,” he continued, pointing to LBS Director General Ledgerhood J. Rennie. “Ledgerhood used to report for BBC too. We are also best of friends, but if he comes to my house and wants to interview me, I tell him ‘no’!”

The President told journalists that he cherishes his space and will only speak to the press when he is ready.

He added, “When we were trying to advocate for disarmament, Paye-Layleh said there was no need for disarmament.”

However, the President switched gears, sharing lighter recollections of the BBC journalist. “I love the press,” he said. “I promoted Jonathan Paye-Layleh by giving him news.  Whenever I granted him an interview, it showed BBC he was working hard.”

Pesident Weah later said that he has no grudge against Jonathan Paye-Layleh and that he hopes the journalist is “enjoying his vacation and medicals” abroad and is free to return to Liberia whenever he wants.

But President Weah’s wooing of the assembled media executives apparently did not sit well across the board as some media executives in attendance at the meeting remarked that they were “not impressed” by the President’s handling of the issue.  “Someone’s concern for their life seems to have been trivialized,” the person said.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I think a mountain is being made out of a mole hill. The President, like all Liberians, is entitled to his opinion. In fact he said ‘…at that time you were against me ‘ a statement of fact not a threat) . But now, i think he offered the green olive leaf – let’s work it out (so to speak)’.

    It is sad that Liberians feel they can ‘run’ away whenever things becomes a bit difficult for them. Well, I would rethink that stance Mr. Paye-Leyleh. You have been a contributor to the peace of our homeland and should continue to do so. But I suggest you read the book “Slaves to Racism” by Dr. Benjamin and Anita Dennis. (http://anitakdennis.com/slaves-to-racism/). Those who love Liberia and want to see it become all God made it to be, must take a little heat now and again; must sacrifice even, if it comes to that, to see it done. All the best to you and yours.

    Dellnot Gardiner

  2. Without doubt concerned Liberians welcome with a sigh of relief President Weah’s outreach for better press – government coexistence and partnership on behalf of the people at home whose welfare and interest they both seek to serve. Ironically, though, by the very nature of their different roles and obligations to the people, misunderstandings and conflicts are inevitable.

    How can they not be? Government possesses political power plus control over national wealth distribution. To be effective, the private media must speak truth to that “power”, and keep eye on the “control over national wealth distribution”. And to perform that dual function, the press needs money to be independent. More often than not, it is at this intersection of colliding missions, frictions exist. Thus making President Weah’s gesture meaningful would require skills and experience in conflict management and resolution.

    That’s why reforming Liberia’s expression laws must now be on the table since he prefers an amicable relationships – not adversarial – between government and the press. Reference his spat with BBC stringer Mr. Jonathan Paye-Layley on war crime court, I’ve elsewhere assailed the evident double standards of Jonathan and BBC for baiting the president. After all, BBC wasn’t neutral in NPFL’s 1990 political power-seeking juggernaut.

    First, Elizabeth Blunt blatantly blurred the lines between reporting and participating in 1990. Second, BBC allowed EJS the use of its medium to order drugged-deranged artillery-dragging child soldiers “bring down” an Executive Mansion near occupied civilian homes. Third, neither Jonathan nor any BBC reporter asked President Sirleaf about a war crime court. Fourth, BBC didn’t advocate for a war crime court after decades of fighting between British paramilitary forces and the IRA; instead, the propaganda chief of IRA, Northern Ireland politician Jerry Adams, was even elected later to the the British Parliament. And, fifth, any reasonable caring person ought to know that a war crime court inside “fragile, factious, and factional” Liberia would be an existential risk.

    As for the flight of Jonathan Paye-layleh, it is inconsequential. This guy is smart enough to know he was overplaying his hand with questions on war crimes court he never asked EJS in her dozen years as president. This guy frolicked with NPFL rebels behind the lines after the butchering of Nimbaian intellectuals including Jackson Doe, the supposed winner of alleged stolen 1985 presidential election, which ostensibly was the immediate cause of the civil war. How could he now pretend to be scared of Weah in a coalition government where NPFL holds immense sway?

    This would suggest Paye-layley couldn’t have fled. BBC blundered bigly, so pulled him out as a damage-control measure.

    Yet as an old news conglomerate with experience in wartime spying, propaganda, and disinformation techniques, BBC couldn’t resist using his feigned flight in stoking doubt about government’s commitment to Press Freedom. These guys have been in the business of high stake international intrigues since 1922. BBC could even have been the creation of the British Intelligence Community. Not to mention that they contributed greatly to Britains’ victorious World War 11 efforts, the Cold War, etc., and have billons of British sterling at their disposal: Stay clear of them. Let’s find means to reconcile our people and build Liberia – “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”.

  3. “President Weah responded: “when I was advocating for human rights in the country, you were one of those that were against me. But I always reminded you because what I was doing at that time was for us not to reach to this point where Liberians are not against each other. And I’m glad that you’re here today. This is the time now we have to make sure that we create that environment and create awareness that Liberians will find reason to forgive each other so we can move on.”
    The truth always raises and brings accountability and responsibility, thus, peace, let’s clear the air for peace… Mr. Paye-layley your fears will not materialized, as Liberia needs all of its professionals and let’s put all this to rest.

  4. I think Paye-Layley question was a little personal and insulting to the President H.E George M Weah by asking him are you ready for a war crime court in Liberia?

  5. Instead of this govt working towards improving the lives of ordinary Liberian it’s it there engaging in NONSENSE!
    People are living in poverty, no employment, food, education, electricity etc then govt there engaging in diversionary tactics. From building a military hospital to coastal highway, dream capital city on a wetland and now feuding with the press, no one talking about how Liberians can find employment, food, education and a better life. All they do everyday is STUPIDNESS! Vision less people!!!

  6. Thanks to the Almighty god that Mr. Paye Layleh could throw ‘jabs’, at the president and still roam the street of his home country. This, in itself, tells us that tremendous achievement have been made toward press freedom in Liberia. Thanks to the president that he remains cool and quiet about the entire case. I m not here to praise the president.

    My questions to Mr. Paye Layleh is, all the time you spent behind line (greater Liberia ) 1991 to 1994/95, you heard about so many atrocities committed by the NPFL, could you have asked Mr. Taylor in a press conference if perpetrators will be brought to justice? Why didn’t Mr. Paye Layleh ask Madam Sirleaf ,why she (Madam Sirleaf ), told the then BBC stringer Robin White on Focus on Africa June 15,1990 that The Executive Mansion should be blown to the ground, if the late President Doe, refused to leave. Mr. Paye Layleh, enjoyed 12 years in Monrovia under Madam Sirleaf government, calling BBC, and giving accounts of various issues, but could not, one day ask president Sirleaf about any past utterance made during the war.

    The BBC is an ‘agent provocateur’ in developing countries. They heighten up tensions and stand aside and see us going after each other, when things fall apart. Let not the president pay attention to Mr. Paye Layleh and his attention seeking notoriety. Even the IRA (Irish Resistance Army) military wing, Shin Fein has asked the BBC out of Belfast ounce. Gary Adam (shin Fein leader), in 1994 told Barnaby Philips, a BBC stringer not to cover an Irish Protest in Belfast, because of their (BBC) reporting. My fellow Liberians, let us seek peace, peace, and peace. This 43,000 sq. miles of real estates we called Liberia, is the only place we all can call home.

  7. It’s unusual for presidents in Africa to do what Weah did just a few days ago. Weah made a move to calm down the tension between him, Paye-Layleh and the media. Of course, it wasn’t the first time he’s reached out to his nemesis to bury a hatchet. As most people will recall, Weah reached out to Nuquay, the vice presidential running mate of VP Boakai to work in his government. Weah may not be right always. That’s understandable because he’s human. Let’s give the guy a credit.

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