Grand Kru County District #2 Representative Fonati Koffa, like many others, says while the press remains the pacesetter an plays a “significantly important role in the society,” many Liberian journalists have laid aside fairness, honesty and transparency in their reportage by giving out information only intended to blackmail others.
Without telling journalists not to write or report critical stories, Koffa, who served as a guest speaker at the Press Union of Liberia Congress held on the main campus of the University of Liberia on November 7, 2019, said many journalists feel that being critical on a story means that the story is strong, but they hold onto the notion of being critical in order to intimidate and harass news makers to solicit money.
Partial reporting, soliciting bribes to bury a story or the truth, disrespectful behavior towards news makers, drunkenness on duty, and any form of poor behavioral conduct on the part of a journalist, is considered under the PUL Code of Conduct as “unethical.”
In the Liberian environment, it is an open secret that many journalists are surviving by gratuity otherwise referred locally as “Kato,” reversion of the French word “Cadeau.”
Recounting his experience with journalists, Rep. Koffa said many a time journalists will call and say they have a story about a person, and pressurize that person to respond immediately, threatening to report such a story if the person refuses to respond.
“When a journalist says this, and I respond that the information is false, the journalist will then say, ‘You know you are a public figure, and such information is not good to be spread about you,’ and in the end, I will give US$500 to bury the story,” Rep. Koffa said.
He continued, “And you will see other journalists defending the person, who has intimidated and harassed people to get money and to blackmail.”
By reasoning, Koffa said, Liberian journalists are “poverty-stricken people” and because of this, most of them, without regard for their own professional ethics and integrity, go about “hijacking” people with damaging stories with the sole intent of soliciting bribes.
Though he did not delve into the income of media institutions, Rep. Koffa believes many Liberian journalists earn less than US$150, and as bad as the Liberian economy has become, with many people finding it difficult to receive money from their savings at the banks, many media institutions are owing their workers over five months in salary arrears.
He said when money is not given, journalists proceed with reporting stories that are one-sided or basically untrue. “When that is done to me, I have nothing to write, but you journalists will write all that you can about me. Now, my friends, let me say today in your presence how most of you go about reporting untrue stories about people only because you want them to give you money,” said Koffa.
Besides journalists soliciting bribes to bury damaging information or unduly promote personalities, Rep. Koffa also questioned the PUL regarding what became of the US$100,000 that former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf gave to build its headquarters in Sinkor.
As the media watches out to report corruption and ills in society, Koffa wondered how will a watchdog reporting about others engaging in corrupt practices be counted among institutions that cannot account for money given for its own headquarters.
“What happened to this money, Mr. President? Was it stolen? We are still waiting to hear what became of this money, though the press continues to report about corruption,” Rep. Koffa said.
The PUL Congress at this time is discussing topics including “State of the Media Economy” as well as “Self-Regulation Versus State Regulation”.
In his recommendation on State of the Media Economy, Rep. Koffa told the PUL to be innovative and design business strategies which will bring money to the umbrella organization to help journalists, instead of relying solely on reporting stories and soliciting bribes to get money.
He said having an endowment fund and media institutions being honest and sincere to pay journalists will make the journalists responsible in reporting; other than these, Koffa said, harassing news makers for money, which taints the integrity of a journalist, will continue.
The PUL Congress was attended by less than one hundred journalists, including registered members of the PUL and guests. In response to such paltry attendance, the Chairman of the Congress, Attorney Alphonsus Zeon remarked that journalists say more things about others, but do not have the time to say or act on what concerns them. According to the latest PUL voters’ roll, the Union has a membership of 1,166 journalists.
As a result of the very low attendance, panel discussions that were to be held were postponed to Friday, November 8, during which time candidates running for various positions, including president, vice president, secretary-general and assistant secretary general, will be facing members to debate and put forward what they have in packages for the development of the organization.