The history of the Liberian Observer Corporation, publisher of the Daily Observer, is synonymous to the struggle of the Liberian state, especially for the past three and a half-plus decades. The Observer’s story embodies resilience, tenacity, determination and strength in the face of fear, torture, intimidations that have overwhelmed the country in recent years.
These vices, which were evident everywhere during the peak of the Liberian struggle, were invoked by a bloody coup that ignited the prolonged civil crisis in the country. The Observer story is one that also speaks of resilience—which has become a nature of the Liberian people, bravery, determination and, focus and truth telling (to authorities) even in the face of death.
Established February 16, 1981 months after the 1980 bloody coup that that took the life of President William R. Tolbert, Jr., eventually ending the long reign of the True Whig Party (TWP), the establishment of the LOC was a joy to many Liberians after being informed that the aim of newspaper was to be the voice of the voiceless and the conscience of the state. This came especially at a time when the country had been forced into total silence by the brutal regime of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, with no opposition or alternative voice(s) hardly heard across the entire country.
The Observer also suffered a series of afflictions in the hands of the military junta. But after all the trials and tribulations over the years the Observer has remained consistently credible in informing the Liberian people and the world about happenings in the country.
So it was indeed worthy when the entity, surrounded by some good friends, celebrated its 36th anniversary in sober reflection last week at its headquarters in Paynesville.
At 36, the Daily Observer has finally caught up with Liberia’s longest surviving newspaper – the Liberia Herald – established in 1926 by John B. Russwurm. Other black luminaries such as Edward Wilmot Blyden and Hilary Teage, who eventually acquired the paper in 1839, edited the Herald successively. The
Herald, which was for the most part a monthly paper, folded after 36 years, in 1862, the same year Liberia College (now University of Liberia) was opened.
The co-founder and the Publisher of the Daily Observer Newspaper, Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, during the entity’s 36th anniversary celebration last Friday, said the celebration is indeed a milestone not just for the entity, but for the promotion of democracy, good governance and social inclusion in the country.
Mr. Best however noted that the sufferings and pains he bore with some friends by his side at the start of his company were not in vain, for the media company is now bearing remarkable fruits, evidenced by the proliferation of media outlets as well as several renowned practitioners—many of them grown by the veteran journalists and the Observer.
The establishment of the Daily Observer was a dream conceived by Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Y. Best while in Nairobi, Kenya where they had seen two leading newspapers in that country, the African Standard and the Daily Nation, making great impact in that country.
“Between the two, I decided to copy from the Daily Nation because it was revered for its accuracy and professionalism in news presentation,” said the publisher, Mr. Best, who provided an abbreviated history of the Daily Observer.
During his time in that East African country, Mr. Best served as the secretary general of the All Africa Council of Churches. In a brief narration of his journey into journalism, Best concluded that it was only the Almighty God that led him into the profession, and the Observer family thus far.
Giving highlights of his experiences with the PRC regime, Best said, “We were closed down five times and our lives were threatened by arbitrary imprisonments and tortures only because we reported true stories in which the lives of our people and the progress of our country were entrapped significantly.”
The first incident that put the Newspaper in trouble with the Doe regime—leading to the imprisonment of him and some staff – was when the Observer reported a story directly linking Justice Minister, Chea Cheapoo, to placing some citizens behind bars for a long time without due process.
“We were dragged to jail and threatened with execution but were released after 10 days, but after being heavily blasted at (humiliated) by the powerful Minister. He asked us never to publish any story not in his favor,” Best said.
He further narrated that after several months, the Daily Observer reported that Conmany Wesseh (now Senator for River Gee County) had been jailed by President Doe. The president ordered that Best be jailed and the Observer be closed down, with a threat of death if Best remained defiant.
“A letter to the editor, calling on the government of the day to pay teachers their arrears, was written by three students we took interest in it by also developing a story therefrom in order to get the government’s feet to the ground for the welfare of our fellow compatriots.
“Doe,” Mr. Best explained, “was annoyed and claimed that the Observer was tarnishing his reputation to the outside world and our action, he feared, could discredit his administration.”
Other than the arrests and imprisonments, the Publisher said there were three separate arson attacks on the facilities of his media company.
The celebration was graced by several eminent Liberians; some of who helped established the institution during such a difficult period at the time. In attendance were the Newspaper’s Chairman of the of the Board of Directors, C. T. O. King, III; Ambassador and Mrs. Charles A. Minor; former NOCAL boss,
Clemenceau Urey; Mrs. Edith N. Ricks; Charles Dennis; former Observer Editor-in-Chief, Philip N. Wisseh, now publisher of the Inquire Newspaper; former Observer photographer, Sando J. Moore, now publisher of Images Magazine; former Observer reporter and international journalist Maureen Sieh; Jan
McArthur, country representative of Internews; and the host of other Liberians. The Liberian Bank for Development and Investment, which has helped the Observer in expanded and improving its investment, was represented by its Chief Accountant, Wilbert Thomas, II.
Mr. Best expressed his gratitude to LBDI for standing by the Observer all these years.
Board Chairman King, in brief remarks, said the road to the company’s today’s success was rocky, hilly and it also contained valleys and rivers very tough to cross over.
“All I can say today is that we give God the glory for all He has done and continue to do in our lives and the survival of this business,” Chairman King said.
According to him, the Bests, who he met Kenya prior to the launch of the LOC, had a set mind to return to their homeland and do something to impact lives and contribute to the nation.
He praised the Observer’s editorials, noting that they (editorials) are nowadays the best in the country.
“Mr. Best has proven at all times that journalists should be brave, courageous, and accurate in their reportage and determined to shape the destiny of a nation positively,” he said.
Mr. Urey said Liberia’s progress lies in the hands of Liberians and as such Mr. Best and his staff are a great force in achieving the actual status the country deserves. He commended the Observer family for the good job over the years.
Ambassador Charles Minor lauded the Newspaper for holding accountable the Liberian government and people. He indicated that the Observer has also been at the center of the country’s democracy.
Mr. Sando Moore, Publisher of the Images Magazine and one of the first employees of the Daily Observer, said with all the calamities experienced, his former boss, Mr. Best proved professionalism, courage and the tenacity to move on.
“He has never led the system with iron hands. Mr. Best is a hero because he listens to his staff and doesn’t make unilateral decisions. This has been the strength of the Observer,” Mr. Moore noted. Also present was the Publisher of the Inquirer Newspaper, Phillip Wesseh.