Confining Media to Curfew: What Are Lewis Brown, GOL Trying to Prove?

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It was announced on Tuesday that the GOL had exempted the press from the curfew, but with preconditions. Journalists are only exempted while going to and coming from work.

Information Minister Lewis Brown has strictly “warned” journalists to obey the curfew rules and not make “trouble” for security forces.  What are he and his government talking about, and what are they trying to prove? Who told him that news waits for daybreak?

Browne surely cannot even suggest, must less prove, that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government is more mean-spirited than the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), which in April, 1980 overthrew the government of President William R. Tolbert in a bloody military coup d’etat, killed him and his topmost officials and led the country through 10 years of terror, leading to the civil war.  The PRC also seriously persecuted the media.  President Sirleaf been far more faithful to her constitutional oath to “defend, protect and uphold” freedom of conscience, expression and of the press.  But  . . .

The “but” has to do with curfews. The Daily Observer newspaper was founded shortly after the April 12, 1980 coup.  Its maiden issue was launched on February 16, 1981 when the curfew, imposed shortly after the coup, was still very much in force and was to remain for nearly two years.  But despite his own erratic behavior toward the press, especially the Daily Observer, Justice Minister Chea Cheapoo granted the newspaper’s staff a pass by which they were able to traverse (pass through) the streets of greater  Monrovia throughout the night and wee hours of morning.  With very little advertising coming in at the time, the editorial staff had to fill 12 or more pages with editorial stuff every night, which often kept us in the office until after four each morning, following which we had to drive the staff through Logan Town, new Kru Town, Gardinersville and Paynesville, when the publishers finally got home.  The staff, riding the company’s only vehicle, a Peugeot 504 station wagon, every night encountered numerous heavily armed soldiers who often asked in an angry tone: “What are you doing in the streets this time of morning? Don’t you people know there’s a curfew in this country?”  But we showed our pass, they let us go.

There’s something else the Minister doesn’t understand, and not surprisingly since he is not a media professional but a mere politician: He does not understand that there are five   groups of professionals that have a common calling in emergencies: the priest, who is there to pray for the critically ill or perform what the Roman Catholics call the "extreme unction;” the law enforcement people, who show up quickly when there’s trouble anywhere; the health and medical personnel who come in when there’s a medical emergency; the lawyer, who intervenes at odd hours to save a client from prison; and finally, the journalist, who shows up to tell the story.

These five groups of professionals have each a vital role to perform in an emergency; so it is wrong, even foolhardy to restrain or restrict anyone of them in a curfew.     

If the Minister thinks there may be too many journalists, he could offer few passes per media house.  But he and his government cannot bar journalists from doing their work. Remember, it is we, the journalists, who write the first draft of history.  Don’t restrain us from performing this vital function in human and world affairs.

History, in many dimensions, is being made in Liberia at this time.  The press must be there to write about it and help this and future generations to know and understand what really happened so as not to repeat the mistakes of our past.  

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