– 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.