The Fourth Estate wields such enormous power that may often be considered a peril by the average politician even though, on several occasions, politicians have been constrained to seek refuge under the protection of the media, when the winds of power blow contrary.
That was said by Cameroon Ambassador to Liberia Mr. Beng’yela A. Gang last Friday at the Monrovia City Hall during the induction ceremony of the Press Union of Liberia’s leadership.
He noted that it is a dilemma that confronts journalists, “Friend at dusk, foe at dawn.” Ambassador Gang said “The journalist appears torn between self-assumed idealistic duty to report impartial facts and truth, on the one hand, and the economic quest for a scoop or a positive balance sheet, on the other hand.”
He added “For some economic or political personalities, journalists also reflect another troubling duality: a constant ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ oscillation that the political or economic venturer continually seeks to either harness or to suppress.”
“It is not easy to ride a tiger and it is even riskier to step down from its back. Related to this is the worrisome trend towards politically strategic press control, if not outright ownership, when the motive for such control is less than bona fide.”
He said besides constitutional safeguards, the greatest and most reliable protection for the journalist seems to be credible affirmation of neutrality, the claim that he/she stands head over shoulders as prophet and catalyst of the collective good of society.
“That is the high moral pedestal reserved for the Fourth Estate and from whence it can ‘Speak Truth To Power.’”
The Cameroon Ambassador said that right to immunity and social protection seems eroded whenever the veil of innocent neutrality is removed and when, below it, is discovered a culpable fixation on ad hominem (personal attack on someone’s character to discredit them), adversarial or yellow journalism.
“Some press organs, regrettably and willingly, become private lances in the hands or at the service of political, ethnic, religious or economic interests often advocating a premeditated, ruthless, search-and-destroy mission against chosen adversaries.
“Such deviants wreak incalculable havoc on the noble corps and therefore, I believe that it behooves the PUL leadership, by pedagogy and calibrated sanctions, to ensure impartial and deep house cleaning, “lest the entire nation perish.”
He said journalism, whether battered by press censorship, by declining income from advertisement or by diminishing returns on investment, continues to soldier on with admirable courage. In this struggle, it must continue to self-define its relevance and to streamline its survival strategies.
He said journalists must collectively give deep thought to their future, their relevance, and their sustainability in parallel to the government’s institutional identification of social priorities and orientations and contribute their own quota to the reassessment of national priorities.
The PUL and its affiliates, he said, owe the community ‒ as a social responsibility ‒ the duty of redirecting more public attention towards effective, self-rewarding, communal and individual enterprise.
“Over and above ‘Speaking Truth to Power,’ there certainly comes a time when the Fourth Estate must realize that it is equally urgent and sensible to simultaneously ‘Speak Truth to Weakness.’”
He called on the new PUL administration to lead its members on issues such as the reconstruction of national optimism and pride; boosting food self-sufficiency; trade and exports; participation in manufacture and industrialization; sports and culture of self-assertion.
Ambassador Gang said local citizens require as much confidence in the future of their country as do foreign investors and the marvelous, locally initiated urbanization so visible on the Paynesville-RIA highway testifies to such confidence.
“If highlighted, such progress may inspire similar native confidence across the development spectrum. The local media must realize and assume its imperative critical duty in the identification of the essential elements of national consensus, in promoting this consensus and in consolidating it by emphasis and sublimation,” he said.
In a society like Liberia, for instance, he said the regular talk show could benefit from qualitative research that matures and circumscribes elevated developmental themes: research that encourages the participation of your own numerous, available experts, graduates, respected technicians and educators in p
“When, I observe the Cameroon context that I represent and know best, I laud the manner in which some excellent journalists and media have contributed to the cross-learning of English and French by the quality of their broadcasts and programs.
“If issues such as the urgent domestication of food production, SMEs, retail trade, small manufacture and exports, tourist infrastructure or reconciliation are truly consensual priorities, these must be clearly palpable in the daily press,” he said and called for the promotion of Liberian heroes and innovators.
“In recent weeks I have observed a most educative page in some press organs dedicated to guidance on local food production methods, gardening and agriculture and other businesses,” he noted.
Ambassador Gang called for similar journalistic forays into the deep country occasionally to make heroes of the innovative farmers hidden in Grand Kru, River Cess or Lofa – to name but a few.
He spoke against the soporific (monotonous, dull) comfort of city journalism ‒ what is referred to “in my country as ‘Hilton Hotel journalism’ that gives inordinate heroism only to the urban professional politician.”
What about, he said, the daring carpenter, the seamstress, the exporting trader of Liberian pearls resident in the back streets or in Ganta? He asked Liberian journalists to identify and give realistic and sustainable content to the ideal of national reconstruction.
Congratulating the outgoing PUL leadership of Mr. K. Abdullai Kamara for an exemplarily serene election process, Ambassador Gang appealed to the new leadership to be forward-looking, constructive and deserving of the support of its predecessor.
PUL officers installed were President Charles Coffey, Vice President Octavin Williams, Secretary General Daniel Nyarkona, and Assistant Sec. General Darius Zinnah.