Crisis with The Media: A Road Not Worth Taking

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By David K. Dahn ([email protected])

The radiance of this piece of writing from the sideline reflects what seems not only a coarse but also worrisome relationship between the Liberian media and the government. For the progress and stability of the state, it is a road not worth taking by either side.  This article has been simulated by three key concerns.

First, without going into the nitty-gritty of the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the issue, to remind all sides  that from development communication’s standpoint, the press, the government, and the people must have their common goals nestled within the framework of  strategic partnership if development must be fostered.

Second, to call the attention of all sides that whether in an altered structure and function of a political system, the pace is set for fostering democracy and development when basic human rights, social justice, security guarantee and respect for the rule of law are upheld.

Third, to leave on record that there is going to be no victor or victim in the end because the government and the press need each other. The objective of this piece is to point out the crippling effect such unhealthy relationship would bring to bear on our society. As patriots, we all must help to avert any such rant at this time.

I view the verbal exchanges as crises between the government and the media. A crisis is simply an urgent development that demands the right kind of communications (Dilenschneider, 2010:112). Crisis could be perceived or real. I elevated the discourse by saying… “Crisis between the Liberian media and the government because a number of government officials, including the official spokesperson (Minister of Information), have spoken at sundry times regarding the conduct of the media in recent times.”

Inversely, the media has responded either through the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), the Publisher Association, through managing editors and other experienced media practitioners, using available media channels.

Don’t we have individuals well versed in the ‘person dimension of negotiations’ to have just watered down the tension through ‘back channel diplomacy’? I am optimistic that there are still the ‘wise’ in society who can help to re-mend the broken link void of hypocrisy but with sincerity.

As a media actor, it is important to point out that within the domain of public relations, the plan for managing a crisis must detail lines of authority and disclosure of information. Every official of government must realize that he/she is a message ambassador whose audience consists of numerous and usually diverse constituencies.

The argument cannot then be nullified that the public relations sector requires very specific and sophisticated communications skills. And for those who understand ‘government relations’ which, if considered within the public relations sphere as a form of power, is much more complex to handle not just by any euphoric or belligerent action.

The power of those engaged in government relations is the proven ability to affect outcomes (Dilenschneider, 2010:125). If I may ask from the vague of ignorance, as eloquent as all officials of the Liberian government may sound in their discourses, I wonder if they are concerned that governmental utterances protruding from several fronts on a  single subject have a mixture of direct negative and positive impacts on domestic and international relations?

What is of serious concern to me is that any harm to the government’s reputation has a ripple effect on the very people government professes to be concerned about their welfare. It is, in my settled consideration, incumbent  upon ‘government message ambassadors’ to see themselves as astute influential who should be more engaged with leveraging whatever resources there can be for the happiness of the citizens and for the ultimate survivor of the state.

Much as officials of government may be euphoric about the change that has engulfed the political sector and want to defend, with their ‘blood and sweat’, what is perceived to be a creeping stain on the government, the adage goes that “too many hands make the soup salty.”

As an official of government, use your ideological power to tamp down crisis that would otherwise negatively impact the government in general and your function in particular. Be calculative as a public official in attempting to reassure our impoverished population already struggling with the residual trauma of victim-hood and powerlessness.

Rather than every official projecting his/her eloquence, what if we take a little moment to consult logic and ink down a critical reflection that banks on the active participatory model of development communication that will have the government’s “pro-poor agenda” grounded and rooted in the villages and small communities around the country? If the ray of hope is ever to beam on the commoners, an official of government must be sharp-eyed and clear-headed in realizing that the guiding theme of the time, if I may suggest, is ‘less talk and more work.’

I thought it should be a common knowledge by now that the presidential press secretary speaks for the presidency and the Minister of Information is the official spokesperson for the government, while the role of public relations officers is articulated in line with their particular entities.

In a functional government, when the heads of state-owned enterprises and ministries, agencies and commissions are in country, unless otherwise authorized, deputies are mute, needless to mention assistant ministers and directors.

Not that the ‘deputies’ lacked intelligence comparable to their bosses but that government’s businesses are conducted or should be conducted in a systematized order. Any official who fumbles and subsequently stumbles on this, it will serve as a confirmation of your shallow strategic depth of the understanding of the portfolio you now occupy.

The press, too, must realize the externalizations of its action and reportage. That the press need a harmonious working relationship with the government of the day is not an option but a necessity. The print media carried banner headlines for the now governing Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC).

The electronic institutions touted the CDC’s cause that propelled it to power and if the relationship that peddled this government to power now shows cracks, wisdom should take precedence over emotion. Do not allow the relationship to crumble as it is not healthy for our democracy.

While you play your watcher-function in the society, the press must remember that the maintenance of peace and security in the state is a cardinal responsibility of every government. However, strategic partnership and not coercive diplomacy is the way forward.

In my mind, the windows of opportunities are still opened and that the Liberian media and the government are not at ‘war’. It is therefore worthless for any side to portray a messaging that seeks to leverage the “stumbles and scandals” of the other side. As the Australian Psychologist Victor Frank once said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” My last words:  Keep calm and trust me, when the noise settles, reality will set in.”

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