School Authorities; Students; Newly Inducted Leaders; Guests; Ladies & Gentlemen:
Participating in this activity is very special to me for two reasons – It is aimed towards making better journalists in Liberia – the primary responsibility I have as president of the Press Union of Liberia; and 2- to provide admonition for young people who are taking up leadership roles in this critical period in our country. I hope we can generate a useful conversation.
We often repeat the rhetoric of Liberia being a post-conflict society. This couldn’t be further from the truth. However, we believe this should not be the end of the road. We must go forward. That leads us to the obligation of reconstructing, developing and safeguarding ourselves from going down memory lane to repeat what we lost out on.
The truth is – we see a number of construction activities going on. But do they really and conclusively define our post-conflict reality? I leave the answer for a continuous process. We should, however, be more interested in ensuring the appropriate legal and operating environment that permits us free space for impartial governance, opportunities for citizen participation and evolution of the society based on the needs and aspirations of the people.
Specifically, the legal reforms in our country are expressed through the ongoing constitution review process. Many of us see the current constitution through our parochial lenses – identifying issues that affect our views and at times ignoring those that do not directly affect us – though they may be hurting others.
The challenge here is for all Liberians to begin to think beyond our current and comfort zones – and to consider for a moment:
- Why some people opt to run motorcycle taxis for a living?- despite unlawful and thoughtless restrictions
- Why others walk for miles on end daily selling cheap wares? – simply to raise some money to afford food for their kids
Both issues relate to poverty, and none of us can doubt that. The obligation therefore, is for each of us to recognize that poverty is not necessarily the outcome of laziness, but there are instead inherent practices and actions by those in high and powerful positions that effectively keep others on the margins of life. Until we address these imbalances, we cannot expect to make Liberia better.
Moving forward with this is greatly tied to the structures we have in place to enhance democracy and development in our country.
Reference the constitution review process, I like to note that our current laws were an attempt to provide more integration in Liberian society, but unfortunately there remain many sections of the law that still point at exclusion – the same situation that informed the need for a constitution in the first place. The Constitution Review process must therefore take steps to reduce exclusion from our national polity. That is – reduce specters of conspiracy and strengthen our drive to prevent future conflicts. That includes preventing the renewal of any laws that unduly limit people in the exercise of their choices and freedom. Lest we forget, limiting freedoms may end up limiting creativity and innovation that are necessary for fueling development – and growing wealth.
Added to these are laws that criminalize dissent – thus the need to rework our country into a clear and present democracy. We can however be hopeful that more persons are now enlightened and determined to be heard and to participate in the Liberian processes.
Mr. President & Officers, Ladies & Gentlemen:
The development programs – on the other hand – are reflected through a number of measures, including the administration led Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Agenda for Transformation; the Central Bank enhanced microcredit programs; the County Development Fund and even the proposed District Impact Funds. As flawed as we may consider several or all of these plans, we must however accept that they also include inherent benefits, which can be better understood through dialogue.
That is why we believe that regardless of the faults of anyone’s ideas, criticism, engagements, etc. – once they do not call for and or drive towards outright war and destruction, they must be allowed the space. As offensive as their comments may seem, they should not be discounted at face value or the proponents punished on account of their propositions. This is because we must all accept that life (including Liberia) must be viewed as a kaleidoscope that works effectively with all components engaged.
This drives us to the key purpose of this gathering – the induction of officers of a journalism students’ leadership.
Leaders must maintain a constructive dialogue with the people they serve, so that the legacy of their leadership will reflect the needs and aspirations of the people – members – customers – occupants – employees – subjects – citizens, etc. Anything other than that is a waste of precious time.
This is true irrespective of any such leadership being in a village, academic community, business organization or even at the supra national level.
Specifically – at the student level, like in your case – the onus is on you a lot more to engage with your colleagues in driving programs that will make your educational pursuit and leadership experiences meaningful and productive. We challenge you to do just that! You will learn later, and must already be witness to the fact that maintaining such dialogues in leadership inspires the trust and confidence of your people.
Reference the other part of this activity – the journalism development segment – we will note that journalism is a professional and noble service that thrives on reporting truth. When a journalist loses sight of the truth, his worth has been washed out and he should perhaps seek out another vocation – i.e- do anything that you consider worthwhile. I at times sarcastically say to others – become a tailor or mason. Truth however is once the people you work for lose faith in you, they will find other tailors or masons.
Truth, however, is obviously quite easy. We however and often ignore it on account of our selfishness, greed, dishonesty, disregard for the rights and opportunities of our compatriots, and in fact a total lack of nationalism and patriotism. Journalists must avoid such circumstances.
On the other hand, journalism is a human right – informed by various national and international instruments which guarantee our right to freely express ourselves on issues and choices – irrespective of the conditions and circumstances.
While various countries try to place caveats to limit the space for journalists to operate, there are still a lot of forward thinking people who maintain that attempts to limit this right should only be restricted to extreme security circumstances. Notwithstanding, there are various professional ethics that guide people in the practice of this craft – towards keeping activities in good taste. Among other issues in media ethics are keeping solidarity with others who aspire to enjoy free expression; providing others reasonable opportunities to respond to issues involving their roles, characters, etc; protecting subjects from scorn and respecting the choices of all.
This is necessary because a professional journalist has the obligation to provide space for all, and that cannot be easily possible, if you have a case against certain people, practices or concerns.
The Press Union of Liberia is dedicated to supporting your group as it strives to produce professional journalists. As a freedom of expression organization, we are determined to stand up with all to freely express themselves, help secure the space for the enjoyment of this right, and help improve their professionalism.
We welcome the establishment of the journalism training program, and we invite you to partner with us in helping to make your programs conform with best practice. We note that once you are determined to participate in journalism, you can go on and achieve laurels, whether we like it or not. Therefore, we have made our role one that will partner with all, and help you become more professional.
Also, we invite you to seek membership in the Press Union of Liberia – to strengthen your solidarity in media practice, and to improve your confidence and professionalism as journalists.
Over the coming period, we commit to assisting in the review of your curriculum, methodologies, students and diversity – in the hope that you will grow into a more professional program.