“It is total disregard for ethical journalism and lack of respect for individual privacy,” the leadership of the Executive Mansion Press Corps has described the action of the Daily Observer Newspaper and its Nimba County Correspondent, Ishmael Menkor, for publishing a private discussion.
The Observer published in its Wednesday, February 22, edition that the Executive Mansion Press Corps, in a meeting with Finance and Development Planning Minister, Boima Kamara, in Ganta, Nimba County, “begged the minister to talk to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for benefits.”
According to reporter Menkor, members of the group practically cried on Minister Kamara “to talk on their behalf to get some benefit from the President before she leaves office” at the end of her term.
He said the journalists complained that they have covered the president at length, but are yet to get the “required” benefits to boast of, tomorrow. “We are yet to benefit anything tangible as reporters assigned to the President. We have also been covering the President for the past 12 years, but we have not been allowed or been given the opportunity to travel with the President on some of her trips abroad.”
But in a strongly worded press release yesterday, the group condemned the action of the Daily Observer and reporter Menkor “who decided to ignore the ethics of journalism, especially the issue that has to do with privacy, especially when it was called for,” the group said. The group also complained that the content of their conversation with the minister was misconstrued.
The release, signed by its Chairman, Samukai Dukuly, said the Observer, which is considered by many as the mother of media entities and the source of accurate and balanced news content, did not do so in publishing an unsubstantiated story coming from a discussion that was meant to be private and not for public consumption.
“We feel this is very much unfair to us and we want the Observer to write an erratum saying that the discussion with the Minister was not meant for publication and must take strong action against reporter Menkor for breaking such a cardinal rule in journalism,” he said.
Prior to the start of the discussion, it was established that contents and outcomes of the discussion were not meant for publication, “and that is why we told everyone that there should be no recording or picture taking, but it is so unfortunate that Menkor, who is not a member of the Press Corps, but a local colleague who we decided to accommodate in the meeting based on camaraderie, had a different motive.”
The release noted that Menkor was present when it was established that the discussion was not meant for publication; and by doing otherwise, blatantly violated the ethics that govern the profession, and this must be condemned.
“The action of reporter Menkor and the subsequent publication of the article is one of the most unprofessional that I have seen in this profession and I’m more puzzled and surprised that this could be coming from the Daily Observer which many of us have cultivated respect for over the years because of the reputation and integrity of its owner, who is a veteran journalist,” the chairman of the press corps said in the release.
He added that the motive of the reporter is to damage the reputation of the group and bring them to public disrepute as the gathering was never a press conference but strictly a private discussion.
What is more frustrating about the situation, according to the group, is that they were not given the chance by the newspaper to respond to the allegation against them as is required in the ethics of the journalism profession. “At least there are two sides to every story, and especially in a case that another person has been accused, he or she should be provided the opportunity to speak on the issues. But unfortunately, this was not the case,” the release said.
The Observer publication, the group noted, also violates article 23 and 27 of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Code of Conduct. Article 23 of the PUL code states that, “Journalists should not publish or broadcast any report or write-up affecting the reputation of an individual or organization without the chance to reply. This is unfair and should be avoided.”
While Article 27 also states that, “Journalists should obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by straight forward means. Unfortunately, the Observer, which is considered as one of the pillars of the media in Liberia, failed to adhere to these simple rules,” the release said.
The Executive Mansion reporters have lodged a formal complaint with the PUL and the Reporters’ Association of Liberia (RAL) to investigate the situation.
In his response Mr. Menkor yesterday said when he joined the rest of the reporters with Minister Kamara, he thought there was going to be a press conference until he learned to his surprise that the objective of the meeting was to “beg the minister to talk to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for benefits,” of which he felt it was not proper and unethical for them to do.
“They were with the Minister when I took their picture,” Menkor said from his base in Ganta, “nobody told me that what was going on with the Minister was a private affair.” Menkor said because he realized the unethical behavior of the Executive Mansion Reporters he decided to file the story to Monrovia because he believes that journalists should be more professional in the discharge of their duties.
“I knew what they were asking the minister to do was wrong and unethical,” Menkor said, “I decided to expose such an ugly behavior that damages the journalism profession in the eyes of the public. With that behavior, how do they think Minister Kamara will consider them?”
The Daily Observer said it also stands with Menkor for calling out unethical behavior disguised as a “private matter,” as Dukuly and others put it. If the media must be respected by the general public, the newspaper’s management said, it must earn it by demonstrating self-respect through professional conduct. “While our colleagues are entitled to their opinions regarding the conflicts of ethics and privacy, they have yet to realize how much embarrassment such behavior as displayed by them in Ganta has on our industry. Moreover, they have not come out to say that what was discussed with the Finance
Minister in the meeting, as reported by Menkor, was false. Until they can do this and provide proof, we stand by our story,” the Daily Observer said in a statement.