President George Weah yesterday sent a congratulatory message to the media on the observance of World Press Freedom Day.
In a glossy greeting card bearing his portrait on the cover, the President reechoed the “tireless roles” the media have and continue to play in the country.
The greeting card, produced by the office of the Press Secretary to the President, was apparently hand-delivered to media institutions across Monrovia and Paynesville, expressing the President’s desire to form a stronger partnership with the media as his government rolls out its pro-poor development initiatives.
“My government recognizes the tireless roles you continue to play in the promotion of peace, security, and democracy,” the President said. “In this regard; it is my desire to form a stronger partnership with the media as we work towards strengthening our democracy and building a prosperous Liberia.”
In his press freedom day message, he reaffirmed his government’s commitment to working with the media in creating a conducive environment for the press and freedom of expression.
The World Press Freedom Day greeting card may well be the first of its kind for the Liberian media, though previous heads of state including former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued press releases and at times provided financial assistance for the Press Union to organize activities to observe the day.
However subtle a step toward transforming the strained relations of late between the Weah administration and the local media, BBC and AP reporter Jonathan Paye-Layleh still remains uncertain about his safety since President Weah singled him out for being “one of those who were against me” when the former football star was advocating for peace during Liberia’s civil war. Earlier this week, Paye-Layleh wrote that, in as much as he would have loved to join fellow journalists at the World Press Freedom Day in Harper, Maryland County, he feared that his safety in such remote part of the country could not be guaranteed, in light of the President’s remarks as well as comments from former war-lords who scolded him because he asked the President about setting up a war crimes court for Liberia.
Meanwhile, a local media executive (name withheld) commenting on the President’s gesture has described President Weah’s card gesture as more of a publicity gimmick rather than a genuine attempt to repair his rather frosty relationship with the media.
According to him, the deference shown by the Police to the killer of journalist Tyrone Browne while being escorted to court, the rather slow pace at which his (the alleged killer) trial is proceeding and the rather snobbish attitude displayed by President Weah towards BBC and AP reporter Jonathan Paye Layeleh since his return to Liberia after initially fleeing the country out of fears for his safety, are, in the opinion of the media executive, subtle indications of what he described as President Weah’s feigned attempt at rapprochement with the media.
However, given the backdrop of unrelenting critical media coverage on the direction in which President Weah appears to be taking the country in furtherance of his Pro Poor agenda, it remains to be seen whether President Weah’s reconciliation gesture will cut any ice with the Fourth Estate, whose celebration of World Press Freedom Day this week may have triggered the President’s reconciliation gesture.