As we conclude 2013, we pause to reflect on the events that shaped the presidency over the year. As the head of the Liberia’s second branch of government, the President faced pressure-packed periods as well as progressive and eventful times.
Here is a glimpse of some of the issues the Presidency faced in 2013, with a focus on the Presidency and media relations, the Ellen Step-down Campaign, as well as other remarkable events.
The Presidential Black-out
A major issue that took center stage during 2013 occurred between the Liberian President and the Liberian media—something that still remains to fully heal. The media, through its umbrella organization the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), unanimously agreed to place a “Black-out” on the Presidency, for what the PUL labeled the President’s perpetual silence on a nationally important issue.
The Black-out was the result of a threat to journalists by the President’s security chief, Othello Warrick, branding Liberian journalists as “terrorists.” Mr. Warrick threatened to “move on them,” (journalists) if they questioned the President’s integrity.
Mr. Warrick, who is head of the Executive Protection Service, (EPS) made many strongly worded statements, saying “Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians. Be careful, because you have your pen and we have our guns. And if you incriminate the character or integrity of Liberians, like me, we will come after you.”
He made the threats against the journalists in the port city of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, where scores of local journalists converged for what was expected to be an exciting and reflective World Press Freedom Day celebration. Director Warrick was one of several panelists at the event.
In response to the threats, after the President had remained silent for what the PUL termed as “longer period of time” they finally met and resolved to issue a ten-day block-out on the President.
On May 9, 2013, PUL said it was outraged and alarmed that since the “reckless comments that brought into question this government’s commitment to upholding press freedom, democracy and the rule of law, there had been nothing but silence from President Sirleaf and others in her government.”
“Journalists,” the PUL said, “saw this development “as risky and troubling; it indicated what was considered wanton disregard for journalists and the free expression of ideas and opinions.”
Scores of local journalists attending the meeting said they “feared that the lack of response to such a threat from a senior security person suggested approval by the President.”
The PUL therefore imposed a news blackout on the Liberian presidency until expressed and established guarantees for the freedom and safety of journalists across the country were put in place. The PUL was also exploring the possibility of legal action against the EPS chief for “terroristic threats.”
The PUL then urged all independent newspapers to print black front pages with appropriate inscriptions “to protest the threats and insults by Mr. Warrick and the insensitivity shown by the President to the public up to that point.”
The PUL said that the blackout was only one of several initial measures taken in response to the EPS’ threat. It promised more in the future.
All radio and TV stations were urged to express their protest by suspending broadcast for 2 hours daily: from 9:00 – 11:00, to be followed by replays of Warrick’s threat and the PUL response.
The media body also ordered that all presidential correspondents assigned by media houses to the Executive Mansion be withdrawn because journalists no longer felt safe in the presence of presidential guards who had threatened the lives of journalists.
In response to the media blackout, the Liberian leader noted on state radio that she was enjoying the action and didn’t care whether the blackout was lifted or not.